Middle East

Moallem in rare Oman visit amid heightened diplomacy

A handout photo made available by the Oman News Agency (ONA) on August 6, 2015 shows Omani Foreign Minister Yussef bin Alawi bin Abdulla (R) meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in the capital Muscat. AFP PHOTO

DUBAI/BEIRUT: Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem made his first visit to the Gulf in more than four years Thursday, meeting his Omani counterpart in Muscat for talks on ways to end the civil war in his country. The visit, his first to the Gulf since his country descended into conflict in 2011, coincides with heightened diplomatic efforts to end the four-year conflict in Syria.

Oman sees itself as a conciliator in a volatile region and has a history of constructive relations with Syria’s close ally Iran.

In the meeting, Moallem and Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi agreed it was time to bring together “constructive efforts” to end the crisis, the Syrian state news agency SANA said.

It reported that the men said any solution “should be based on meeting the aspirations of the Syrian people in the fight against terrorism” and should ensure the stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

Moallem was accompanied by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, SANA said.

Moallem visited Tehran earlier in the week for talks on the war amid increased efforts by Iran and Russia, both allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad, to end the conflict and build a wide international alliance against ISIS.

Syrian state TV quoted Moallem as saying on the visit that Syria supported any efforts to combat ISIS if they were coordinated with Damascus, but anything else would “be a breach of Syrian sovereignty.”

Iran and Russia have stood by Assad, providing military and financial support during the conflict. The

United States and some of its Gulf Arab allies have said Assad must leave office. During Moallem’s visit to Tehran Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reiterated “Iran’s unwavering support for the Syrian nation in the face of terror groups,” Iranian state media reported.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he had reached an agreement with his Russian counterpart on a draft U.N. resolution aimed at identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

“We also talked about the U.N. resolution and indeed I believe reached an agreement that should try to see that resolution voted on shortly, which will create a process of accountability which has been missing,” Kerry told reporters after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of a regional forum in Malaysia.

Diplomats say the U.N. Security Council is likely to vote Friday on a U.S. proposal to ask U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and the global chemical weapons watchdog to assemble a team of investigators to lay blame for toxic gas attacks in Syria. Attributing responsibility for chemical weapons attacks would pave the way for action by the 15-member Security Council. The body has already threatened consequences for such attacks, which could include sanctions.

Officials say Kerry and Lavrov reached agreement on the draft resolution during talks in Malaysia Wednesday.

Russia – which has veto power on the U.N. council – is an ally of Syria and has protected Assad’s government from any U.N. action during the four-year civil war. The United States began discussing the draft resolution with Russia several months ago. Several diplomats in New York, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a vote would likely be scheduled for Friday as no council member raised objections before a 10 a.m. EDT deadline Thursday to file complaints about the draft.

The main Western-backed Syrian opposition, long distrustful of Russia over its backing of Assad, is due to visit Moscow next week, a source and Russian newswires said.

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces boycotted Syria peace talks held in Moscow in January and April, distrustful of Russia and critical of the Damascus rivals who attended, whom it described as token opposition.

A Russian source familiar with preparations for the visit said an SNC delegation was due in Moscow Aug. 12 and 13 and would be led by its recently re-elected head, Khaled Khoja.

The source said they were due to meet Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his deputy and President Vladimir Putin’s special Middle East envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, and Vitaly Naumkin, a Russian academic who served as moderator during two rounds of Syria peace talks in Moscow in January and April.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 07, 2015, on page 1.

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