Oman has sent an ambassador to Syria, becoming the first Gulf Arab state to do so after they downgraded or shut missions in Damascus in 2012 over the government’s brutal response to protests at the start of what turned into a war.
Oman is one of the rare Arab countries that maintained diplomatic relations with the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad after the 2011 uprising, despite pressure from the United States and other Gulf allies.
Syria’s foreign minister on Sunday accepted the credentials of Oman’s Ambassador Turki bin Mahmood al-Busaidy, appointed to the post by royal decree in March, state news agency ONA said.
Oman’s previous foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi, had been to Syria on official visits twice since the uprising broke out in the country.
Bin Alawi visited Damascus in 2015, according to Syria’s official SANA news agency, to discuss ways to “resolve the crisis in Syria”.
He visited again in July 2019, where he met his counterpart Walid al-Muallem and President Bashar al-Assad and discussed bilateral relations and regional security.
Oman’s late leader Sultan Qaboos had adhered to a strict policy of non-intervention in regional affairs and maintained ties with Syria after the 2011 uprising turned into the ongoing violent civil war, saying Oman’s role in the conflict would be to provide humanitarian support.
Some Arab states are seeking reconciliation with Damascus after decisive gains by pro-government forces in the conflict, aiming to expand their clout in Syria at the expense of non-Arab Turkey and Iran, who have backed al-Assad.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) re-opened its mission to Damascus in late 2018, in a diplomatic boost to al-Assad, and has a charge d’affaires there.
The UAE was one of several regional states to back rebel groups in Syria, though it maintained a lower profile than other Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who have yet to re-establish ties with Damascus.
Kuwait has said it would reopen its mission in Damascus if there is agreement within the Arab League, which suspended Syria’s membership in 2011.
Al-Assad has recovered control of most of Syria with support from Russia along with Iran – Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s foe – and Iranian-backed groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The United States has imposed new sanctions aimed at cutting off funds for al-Assad’s government and warned that anyone doing business with Damascus was also at risk of being blacklisted.