Trust and calm over guns and swagger

Progress with Iran and in Yemen’s war relies in large part on Oman’s ability to be a neutral, serene facilitator of dialogue.

Supporters of Houthi rebels attend a rally last March in in Sanaa, Yemen.

A turbulent Middle East needs centers of calm to curtail its conflicts, and one showed up – again – this week. It came, rather tellingly, just before Iran and the United States restarted talks over the revival of their defunct nuclear agreement. In fact, a two-month extension of a truce in war-ravaged Yemen on Tuesday was due in large part to Oman, a small, poor country on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula whose even-tempered and tranquil mediation helped cement the original 2015 nuclear deal.

Leaders in Oman were able to renew a 4-month-old truce in neighboring Yemen by once again acting as a trustworthy facilitator through back-channel diplomacy. The Middle East needs “an environment of calm,” Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi told the Al-Monitor news website, and the best approach is through “avenues for dialogue” with everyone.

Omani diplomats were crucial go-betweens in persuading Iran-aligned Houthi rebels to renew the truce, which began April 2, with a Saudi-backed Yemeni coalition. The cessation of hostilities has kept a seven-year war on hold, saving lives and allowing humanitarian aid to flow to more than two-thirds of Yemen’s 30 million people in dire need.

The truce also opens a door for a permanent solution to the political divide inside Yemen, a country that saw a brief period of democracy after the 2011 Arab Spring. And the latest agreement may be a bellwether that Iran is ready to compromise with the U.S. in the nuclear talks.

Inclusiveness, stated Oman’s foreign minister, is the country’s core value. “For the future there is no other avenue but to have an understanding to talk with each other directly, not at each other, to reach that ultimate goal of understanding and cooperation,” he said.

Oman’s diplomats are well practiced at being serene and equable listeners. “We will continue to believe in the power of dialogue,” said the foreign minister. Such calm trust is a necessary antidote to the guns and swagger of the Middle East.

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