DUBAI: World and regional leaders met Oman’s new ruler on Sunday to offer condolences over the death of Sultan Qaboos whose quiet diplomacy during five decades in power helped calm regional turbulence.
The rulers of the UAE and Qatar were among those who visited the royal palace in Muscat as was the foreign minister of Iran.
Oman’s new sultan, Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said, promised after assuming power on Saturday to uphold the foreign policy of his Western-backed predecessor under which Muscat balanced ties between larger neighbors Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the US.
“His challenge going forward will be to quickly develop his personal relationships with foreign partners and make clear his likely stance to stay the course with Oman’s foreign policy,” said Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.
Qaboos, who died on Friday aged 79, managed to maintain Oman’s neutrality, not taking sides in regional disputes.
‘True partner to US’
President Donald Trump called Qaboos a true partner to the US, working with nine different American presidents.
“His unprecedented efforts to engage in dialogue and achieve peace in the region showed us the importance of listening to all viewpoints,” Trump said in a statement.
The British government said Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles arrived in Muscat for the condolences ceremony for the longest-serving Arab leader, who took power in 1970. Among other Western dignitaries was former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
A ceremony at Muscat’s Alam Palace drew figures from across political divides in the Middle East, including Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
Haitham assumes power at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the US that could destabilize a region vital to global oil supplies. Qaboos’ death leaves Kuwait’s 90-year old Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, who was also in Muscat on Sunday, as the last of the old guard leaders in the Gulf.
The region has seen the emergence of young leaders in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi who are bent on curtailing Iran’s influence.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was among those who met the new sultan, along with Tunisian President Kais Saied, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, and Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy was also in attendance at the ceremony, which took place a day after the new royal ruler Haitham bin Tariq was selected and sworn in.
Haitham is a cousin of Qaboos, who never married and died without an heir apparent.
It was Sultan Qaboos’ policy of neutrality and noninterference that elevated Oman’s standing as a “Switzerland of the Middle East” and won it respect in the region and beyond. Sultan Haitham, 66, has pledged to follow Sultan Qaboos’ example of promoting peace and dialogue in the Mideast.
Oman maintains healthy relations with the US as well as with regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran, in what many diplomatic observers see as a model of balance. As a young man, Qaboos attended Britain’s elite Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, after which he joined a British infantry battalion in Germany.
British Premier Johnson is to meet with the new sultan and senior Omani officials during his visit, his office said in a statement.
“The UK and Oman have a broad and long-standing bilateral relationship that goes back over 200 years,” it said. “Our countries have deep economic ties and shared defence and security interests.”
The sultan’s death comes amid increased tensions between Tehran and Washington, following the US killing of a top Iranian commander in Iraq that raised fears the region was sliding into war. The late sultan’s standing has been recognized with warm tributes from across the world.
Oman sits on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula.