Mohammad Javad Zarif and Yousuf Bin Alawi
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his Omani counterpart Yousuf Bin Alawi pose for a photo prior to their meeting, in Tehran on July 27, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Dubai - Oman’s minister responsible for foreign affairs held talks with Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday, Iranian state media reported, as tensions mount in the Gulf after Tehran detained a British-flagged oil tanker.

Oman maintains friendly ties with both the United States and Iran and has previously been a go-between for the two countries, which severed diplomatic relations after the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Washington and Tehran are in a protracted stand-off over Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes, and tensions have flared after Iran downed a US drone over the Gulf and the United States said it brought down at least one Iranian drone, which Tehran denied.

Tensions between Iran and Britain also escalated after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a British-flagged oil tanker on July 19. That came two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accused of violating sanctions on Syria.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met Yousuf Bin Alawi, state television reported, without giving details of the talks. “The visit was conducted in the framework of bilateral relations and continuous consultations of the two countries with the aim of exchanging views on recent regional developments, bilateral relations, ... and international issues,” state television reported.

Oman’s foreign ministry said on Twitter the two ministers discussed stability and security in the region and freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, shared by the two countries and which is the only route in and out of the Gulf.

Iran has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the waterway, where several oil tankers have been attacked, if the United States tries to strangle its economy with sanctions on its vital oil exports.

The US administration, meanwhile, is trying to decide whether to risk stoking international tensions even more by ending one of the last remaining components of the 2015 nuclear deal. The US faces a Thursday deadline to decide whether to extend or cancel sanctions waivers to foreign companies working on Iran’s civilian nuclear programme as permitted under the deal. Ending the waivers would be the next logical step in the campaign and it’s a move favoured by Trump’s allies in Congress who endorse a tough approach to Iran. But it also would escalate tensions with Iran and with EU allies, and two officials say a divided administration is likely to keep the waivers afloat with temporary extensions.

The mere fact that the administration is divided on the issue — it’s already postponed an announcement twice, according to the officials — is the latest in a series of confusing signals that Trump has sent over Iran. Some fear the mixed messages could trigger open conflict amid a buildup of US military forces in the Gulf region.

“It’s always a problem when you don’t have a coherent policy because you are vulnerable to manipulation and the mixed messages have created the environment for dangerous miscalculation,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Trump has simultaneously provoked an escalatory cycle with Iran while also making clear to Iran that he is averse to conflict.”