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US holds ‘secret’ talks with Syria in Oman

May 17, 2023 at 3:56 pm

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov and Burak Akcapar, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkiye attend a meeting on Syria, held at the level of deputy foreign ministers of Turkiye, Russia, Iran and Syria in Moscow, Russia on April 04, 2023 [Sefa Karacan / Anadolu Agency]

The US and Syria have engaged in secret, direct negotiations in Oman, according to a report by The Cradle yesterday, citing a senior diplomatic source in the Arab League. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that “the talks took place in the Omani capital Muscat, ‘the city of secret negotiations’ between Washington and several nations in West Asia.”

With regard to talks between the US and the Syrian government, the source added that they included “security figures from both countries and representatives of foreign ministries.”

Among the issues raised, apparently, was the ongoing US occupation of eastern Syria and its oilfields and information on the fate of Austin Tice, a freelance journalist and former US Marine Corps officer who is thought to be in Syrian custody, although this has been denied by Damascus. The release of Tice has been on the agenda of previous Syria-US talks.

When asked to comment on the report by, the US State Department said that it was engaged with “a number of countries in the region” to secure Tice’s release. “We are engaging extensively to try to get Austin home. We have pursued every channel we can to seek his safe return to his family, and will continue to do so. That includes discussing this case with a number of countries in the region.”

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A report by L’Orient Today earlier this month also claimed that the US held direct meetings with Damascus in Oman several months ago, citing two Arab diplomats. The same sources mentioned that negotiations have been stalled due to the Syrian government’s preconditions for any serious discussions.

The development comes as Syria is gaining wider acceptance in the region, following reports that it has been re-admitted into the Arab League and is working on restoring relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. According to the outlet’s diplomatic sources, Washington has sought to limit the scope of the rapprochement between Damascus and other Arab capitals without actually blocking it.

Over the years, Oman has emerged as a reputable mediator in the Middle East, often facilitating back channel communication between states and entities in conflict, including peace talks between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi-led government. Muscat has also been hosting talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Last year it was reported that the sultanate stepped up its mediation efforts concerning the US and Damascus in the hopes of obtaining the release of US hostages held in Syria.

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