RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s crown prince traveled Monday to Oman, the first stop of a tour of Gulf Arab states that will see him meet neighboring rulers and allies as the kingdom closely watches negotiations in Europe to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit coincides with a flurry of other diplomatic meetings in the region, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to ally Qatar and a visit by a high-ranking security official from the United Arab Emirates to Iran. Confirmed by Saudi and Omani media, the tour also comes ahead of an upcoming annual six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council meeting of rulers this month.
His arrival came as Yemen's Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile targeting the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The Saudi military said it intercepted the missile and later launched a counterattack targeting missile and drone sites around Sanaa, Yemen's rebel-controlled capital.
Erdogan, whose country rushed to support Qatar during a diplomatic standoff that ended earlier this year with other Arab states, said Turkey welcomes reconciliation efforts in the Gulf region. Turkey has been trying to repair frayed relations with some Arab states, including with a visit by Erdogan to the UAE in February.
“I welcome the diplomatic efforts to reopen the doors for dialogue and to overcome misunderstandings in the Gulf region," Erdogan said before leaving for Qatar, where his delegation was expected to sign several new cooperation accords. Erdogan also planned to visit troops at a Turkish base in Qatar.
Oman state television aired images of Prince Mohammed's arrival Monday night in Muscat, the Omani capital. Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq greeted him at the airport.
Prince Mohammed's tour will take him this week to the UAE, where a rivalry has heated up for business amid diverging foreign policies between the traditional allies, as well as Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, according to diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss tour details.
The diplomats said the tour aims to eliminate geopolitical differences and enhance cooperation and coordination among the six Gulf Arab countries, particularly in dealing effectively with Iran’s nuclear program and regional ambitions.
While relations among the GCC are underpinned by cultural, religious and tribal ties, they have widely different foreign policy stances on Iran. Oman, Kuwait and Qatar have all maintained relations with Iran, while Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have seen tensions spike and actively work to curtail Iran's reach in the region.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE, however, have held direct talks with Iran aimed at easing tensions. Gulf Arab states are concerned over a perception that the United States is increasingly disengaging from the Mideast to focus on threats from China and Russia. They point to the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as the latest example.
The diplomats told the AP that Prince Mohammed's meetings with Arab rulers will stress the importance of self-reliance among the GCC. The kingdom and UAE are investing in homegrown defense industries and increasingly looking to countries such as France, Russia and China for military hardware, though the U.S. remains the top arms and defense supplier in the region.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel oppose the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which has been on life support since the U.S. pulled out of the deal under then-President Donald Trump and imposed sweeping sanctions on Tehran.
Prince Mohammed will also be seeking greater support for a resolution to the yearslong war in Yemen, the diplomats said. Saudi forces, despite accelerated airstrikes on the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and elsewhere in recent weeks, have not managed to significantly push back the country's Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
In July, Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq made Saudi Arabia his first stop since taking power last year. Saudi Arabia, a global oil heavyweight, is the largest and the most populous Arab country in the GCC, and the largest economy in the Middle East.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.
Abdullah Al-shihri And Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press