MUSCAT: Saudi Arabia signed deals with Oman valued at $30 billion, state media said yesterday, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a tour of Gulf Arab countries, including former rival Qatar. Saudi and Omani companies “signed 13 memoranda of understanding worth $30 billion”, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
The MoUs between the two countries, which seek to diversify their economies away from oil, range from cooperation in the energy and tourism sectors to finance and technology. Prince Mohammed arrived in Muscat on Monday night, the first stop in a regional tour ahead a Gulf Arab summit in mid-December. He met with Sultan Haitham bin Tareq, who ascended the throne in January last year, after the death of his cousin Sultan Qaboos.
Yesterday, Sultan Haitham honored Prince Mohammed with the Oman First-Degree Order, one of the country’s top medals. The official Oman News Agency said the sultanate grants the award to kings, heads of states, crown princes and heads of governments of countries with which Muscat has distinguished relations.
According to SPA, Prince Mohammed will also visit the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. His trip to Doha will mark the first visit since Saudi Arabia and Qatar severed ties four years ago. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut all links with Qatar in June 2017, alleging it backed radical Islamist groups and was too close to Riyadh’s rival Tehran – allegations Doha denied. They restored full relations with Qatar in January after a landmark summit.
The prince’s tour comes amid a flurry of diplomacy to resolve regional disputes, especially with Iran and Turkey. There have been signs of a thaw between Saudi Arabia and Iran in recent weeks, with Tehran and Riyadh holding several rounds of talks since April aimed at improving ties. Meanwhile, Turkey has sought to rebuild relations with former rivals in the Gulf, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Simmering tensions between Ankara and Riyadh escalated after the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
Prince Mohammed’s tour coincides with a visit to Doha by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday, although Qatar’s foreign minister has said it was coincidental. Erdogan, whose country is reeling from a fresh economic crisis and is searching for foreign investment and trade, met with Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani yesterday.
The two discussed enhancing their countries’ cooperation in various fields, including the economy, defense and security, and sports, the Qatar News Agency said. During the meeting, Qatar and Turkey signed a number of cooperation agreements and MoUs. The two countries signed a protocol on organizing major events and crises management. The two sides also signed a letter of intent on partnership between Doha Forum and Antalya Diplomatic Forum, as well as MoUs on sports and youth, health and medical science.
An MoU on religious affairs was also inked, in addition to cooperation agreements on standardization, culture and tourism, and investment. Sheikh Tamim and Erdogan expressed hope the agreements would further cement cooperation and take it to new heights. The Gulf states are seeking to diversify their economies away from oil, investing heavily in recent years in the tourism, entertainment and sports sectors. – Agencies