French Hostage Release Shows Oman’s Diplomatic Role

French Hostage Release Shows Oman’s Diplomatic RoleFrench Hostage Release Shows Oman’s Diplomatic Role

France on Friday thanked Oman for helping to free a French aid worker who was abducted in February. The release of Isabelle Prime has underscored the sultanate’s role as a diplomatic bridge linking Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the West.

A statement on Thursday from the Elysee Palace said the French presidency wished “to thank all those who helped to achieve this outcome (the hostage’s release), and in particular Sultan Qaboos bin Said,” Mehdi Chebil wrote for AFP.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also singled out the Omanis who “helped enormously” in securing her release.

Authorities there helped locate Prime and bring her to the Persian Gulf Arab sultanate at dawn, official news agency ONA cited an unnamed official at the Omani Foreign Ministry as saying.

Isabelle was seized with her translator on February 24 as they were driving to work in the Yemeni capital Sana’a. Her translator Sherine Makkaoui was freed in March.

It was a rare official recognition of Oman’s discreet but independent foreign policy.

 “The sultan of Oman has been one of the most sought-after intermediaries in the region,” said Hasni Abidi, director of the Geneva-based Study and Research Center for the Arab and Mediterranean World.

 Trusted Peace Broker

Oman’s Qaboos bin Said al Said, or simply Sultan Qaboos, has spent most of his 45 years in power maintaining a neutral position on regional conflicts, which has enabled this tiny country in the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula to gain leverage as a trusted peace broker.

Despite being a founding member of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, a Saudi-led organization seen as an alliance of Sunni rulers, Oman has managed to maintain good relations with Iran.

In contrast to its (P)GCC allies, the sultanate’s leadership openly supported the July 14 nuclear agreement struck in Vienna between Iran and six world powers.

Oman is also the only (P)GCC country that refused to take part in Riyadh’s Operation Decisive Storm, the military intervention against Houthi forces in Yemen.

“It’s the sultan of Oman who has convinced the Houthis to take part in the Yemen peace roundtable that took place in Geneva,” said Abidi, underscoring the country’s role as the only mediator trusted by the different warring factions in Yemen.

 Tolerance of Others

The sultanate’s building of a diplomatic bridge between Arab states and Iran is seen as an opportunity to temper growing sectarian tensions. Oman is the only Ibadi-majority Muslim nation in the region, which has largely allowed it to avoid the factional fighting that has engulfed many other countries.

“Oman is not a neutral country, but one that always wished to make itself an arbiter, a society that banked on its high tolerance levels in socio-political affairs,” said Joseph Kechichian, a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“The country experienced its own civil conflict in the 1960s until the mid-1970s, and it won’t return to such a state.”