* Oman prepared to help peace talks
* Muscat tries to play conciliatory role
* Oman seen by Houthis as neutral
By Noah Browning
MUSCAT, April 2 (Reuters) - Oman is ready to help the United Nations mediate in Yemen’s war, the foreign minister of the neighbouring sultanate said on Thursday, but the combatants show no signs they are ready to hold talks on ending the week-old war.
Yusuf bin Alawi said Oman had previously passed messages between Yemen’s Houthis and their Saudi foes, but neither had sought out such contact since Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations began air strikes against the Houthis on March 26.
Although Oman could help the United Nations bring the foes to a “roundtable”, he said peace efforts should be taken up at the U.N. Security Council, the world’s top security body, and hosted somewhere outside the Middle East.
“The U.N. is an organisation that has been tasked to maintain peace for all the powers involved, although we will not hesitate to play a role in order to help Yemenis, to help the United Nations, to encourage both parties involved in the crisis to come to a roundtable and discuss their own future,” he added.
Oman, which traditionally seeks to play a conciliator role in a turbulent region, is the only Gulf Arab country to sit out the Saudi-led bombing campaign. The Houthis regard it as neutral and hence potentially as an acceptable mediator.
“Oman has distanced itself from the war, and this is a wise decision,” a member of the Houthi politburo, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, told Reuters.
The Saudis, a majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, want to prevent the Shi’ite Houthis, whom they see as Iranian proxies, from keeping power in a country they see as their backyard. In contrast, Oman, Yemen’s only other neighbour, has positioned itself as a sympathetic listener to both sides.
“Oman is not part of that campaign for simple reasons — Oman is a nation of peace,” bin Alawi told Reuters.
“We cannot work on peace efforts at the same time we would be part of a military campaign. Those two things do not meet.”
For now, he said, the warring parties “are still not ready (for dialogue).”
Bin Alawi said Oman “understood” the situation which had led to the Saudi-led campaign, but “ ... in order to lead Yemen to the future (both parties) should be free from any influence, except the influence of their own people.”
Oman in recent months has sought to distance itself from a Saudi plan for Gulf Arab states to close ranks against Iran. Riyadh has backed groups opposing Iranian proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen, and has tried to rally Gulf Arab states into what a former Omani diplomat has described as “a sectarian project to confront Iran”.
Reporting By Noah Browning and Fatma Arimi; Editing by William Maclean and Larry King