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Diplomacy |

Top Omani diplomat to visit Iran amid regional tensions

By AFP

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Oman's minister responsible for foreign affairs Yusuf bin Alawi (left) arrives at the Diriya Palace in the Saudi capital Riyadh during the Gulf Co-operation Council summit on December 9th, 2018. Bin Alawi will head to Iran July 27th to discuss the situation in the Gulf amid rising tensions. [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]

Oman on Monday (July 22nd) said its top diplomat will head to Iran this weekend to discuss the situation in the Gulf amid rising tensions.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah "will visit Iran on Saturday to discuss bilateral relations and for continuous consultations, particularly in regards to recent regional development", the ministry said.

Oman has maintained good relations with Iran throughout successive regional crises, allowing it at times to play a key mediating role, including with the US.

A picture taken on July 21st shows the IRGC patrolling around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it is anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. [Hasan Shirvani/MIZAN NEWS AGENCY/AFP]

A picture taken on July 21st shows the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. [Hasan Shirvani/MIZAN NEWS AGENCY/AFP]

Tensions in the Gulf have soared since May amid a deepening standoff between Iran and the US over Tehran's nuclear programme, with a string of incidents involving tankers and drones.

On Friday, a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, was impounded by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) with its 23 crew members aboard in the Strait of Hormuz.

Calls for ship's release

Outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May chaired an emergency meeting of ministers and security officials on Monday to discuss how to respond.

"The ship was seized under false and illegal pretences and the Iranians should release it and its crew immediately," May's spokesman said.

"We do not seek confrontation with Iran but it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to seize a ship going about legitimate business through internationally recognised shipping lanes."

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to update parliament later Monday.

The EU has condemned Iran's action, and Hunt spoke to his French and German counterparts on Sunday.

They agreed that "safe passage for vessels through the Strait of Hormuz is a top priority for European nations, while avoiding any possible escalation in the region", a British statement said.

Oman has called for the release of the Stena Impero and for London and Tehran to resolve their dispute with diplomacy.

Saudi Arabia slammed Iran's seizure of the ship as "completely unacceptable", urging world powers to "take action to deter such behaviour".

'Extreme concern'

Both Kuwait and Qatar said they were following with "extreme concern" the developments in the region and urged all parties to exercise restraint.

"These actions increase escalation and tensions and put navigation safety under direct threat," the Kuwaiti government said in a statement carried by the Kuwait News Agency.

Meanwhile, an Iranian tanker held in Saudi Arabia since being forced to seek repairs at Jeddah port has been released and is returning to the Islamic republic, Iranian transport minister Mohammad Eslami said Sunday.

The Happiness 1 tanker "has been released following negotiations" and is now moving toward Gulf waters, Eslami said, according to state news agency IRNA.

The ship had been forced to seek repairs in Saudi Arabia in early May after suffering "engine failure and loss of control", the Iranian oil ministry's SHANA news agency said at the time.

The rare docking came despite escalating tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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