Saudi King Salman receives Oman's Sultan in Neom on Sunday. Image Credit: AFP

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia and Oman on Sunday signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint coordination council that aims to coordinate their stances in all fields.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tarik attended the signing of MoU to set up the Saudi-Omani coordination council. The Saudi-Omani coordination council seeks to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.

Following the signing ceremony, King Salman conferred the Order of King Abdul Aziz to Sultan Haitham. And Oman’s Sultan granted the Order of Al Said, the highest accolade in Oman, to King Salman.

The sultan met Saudi Arabia's King Salman to discuss ways to boost ties, the official Saudi Press Agency reported. Image Credit: AFP

Earlier with trumpets blaring and fighter jets streaking overhead, Sultan Haitham landed in Neom, a futuristic desert city planned along the kingdom’s Red Sea coast.

Skyscrapers in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, were lit up in red and green, the colours of the Omani flag, to celebrate Sultan Haitham’s arrival. The visit coincides with the opening of the first-ever land crossing connecting the countries as Oman tries to diversify trade routes.

The Saudi cabinet also authorised officials to prepare and sign draft agreements with Oman in a slew of fields including commerce, culture, investment promotion and post and transport.

“There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes to try to build the foundation of something much more significant between the Saudis and Omanis,” Ayham Kamel, head of the Middle East and North Africa at the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group was quoted as saying. A closer relationship could be an economic boon for Oman, which is struggling to diversify its economy away from oil.

Saudi Arabia has forged closer ties with Iraq, hosting the prime minister in March, and reconciled this year with Qatar — a Gulf neighbour it had a rancorous split from in 2017.

Relations between Oman and Saudi Arabia had long been cool despite their shared border. Any sign of reticence was gone this weekend, as Saudi public figures shared effusive social media posts celebrating the alliance.

Leaders holding talks in Neom on Sunday.

“The Omani-Saudi relations are set to scale new heights after Sunday, ushering in a new era of wider prosperity and expanded cooperation,” the Times of Oman said on Saturday.

The choice to make Saudi Arabia Sultan Haitham’s first foreign destination since taking power last year signals the states’ mutual self-interest and Oman’s respect for Saudi Arabia, the spiritual anchor of the Muslim world and the region’s largest economy with its vast oil reserves.

Sultan Haitham Bin Tarik of Oman on Sunday arrived in Saudi Arabia’s Neom airport where he was received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Oman, sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and its rival Iran, has long played the role of neutral mediator, particularly in efforts to settle the seven-year-old conflict in Yemen.

Did you know?
The first foreign visit of Oman's late Sultan Qaboos bin Said after assuming power was to Riyadh on December 11, 1971, in response to an invitation received from King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. This was followed by another official visit in 1975 by Oman’s Sultan to Saudi Arabia. Thereafter in 1980, Sultan Qaboos made one more visit to the Kingdom where he was received by King Khalid bin Abdul Aziz.
Sultan Qaboos paid an official visit again to Saudi Arabia in March 1990, when an international agreement was signed on March 21 to demarcate borders with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This was followed by a private visit by Sultan Qaboos in June 1992. Subsequently in 2005 June , there was another official visit by Sultan Qaboos to Saudi Arabia.
The last official visit by Sultan Qaboos to the Kingdom was on May 29, 2010, which lasted for two days.
Similarly, the official records also document visits from the Saudi side. In March 1976, Sultan Qaboos bin Said received King Khalid bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, when he paid an official visit to the Sultanate.
On December 23, 2006 the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, paid an official visit to the Sultanate for three days at the invitation of Sultan Qaboos . In January 2020 King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, paid his condolences and sympathy on the demise of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. He was received by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq. -- Raajeshwari Ashok, Correspondent

Stronger ties with Saudi Arabia could become critical as Sultan Haitham, the 65-year-old former culture minister, faces tens of billions of dollars of outstanding debt, a “junk’’ credit rating and rising youth unemployment. The coronavirus pandemic and slump in oil prices have exacerbated the Gulf Arab nation’s financial troubles.

Oman is among the weakest financially among the Gulf oil producers but has long played the role of facilitator in efforts to resolve regional conflicts because of its neutral foreign policy.

The sultanate, which shares borders with Yemen, has intensified diplomatic efforts aimed at securing a ceasefire between Yemen's Iran-aligned Al Houthi militants and the Saudi-led Arab coalition that has been battling the group for more than six years.

Talks between the coalition and the Al Houthis are focused on steps to lift a blockade on Houthi-held ports and Sanaa airport in return for a promise from the Iran-aligned group for truce talks.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after Al Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital, Sanaa. The war has killed tens of thousands of Yemenis and pushed the country to the brink of famine. -- inputs from agencies