Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said gives a speech after being sworn in before the royal family council in Muscat, Oman January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Sultan Al Hasani

The Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, will visit Saudi Arabia on Sunday on his first official foreign trip since ascending to the throne last year.

His talks with Saudi officials are expected to focus on the war in Yemen and economic and investment cooperation, as Muscat looks to strengthen its financial position, according to the Reuters news agency.

Sultan Al Said, whose country has participated in the UN-led efforts to achieve peace in Yemen, arrived in the Red Sea city of Neom for a two-day visit.

He was received by Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in what Saudi media described as the first direct meeting conducted by King Salman (85 years) since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Sultan was recently faced with the biggest challenge when demonstrators protested against the high unemployment rates in the Sultanate, which faces huge debt burdens and is working to implement extensive reforms and austerity measures.

Since the oil price collapse in 2014, Oman’s gross debt ratio has jumped from around 15 percent in 2015 to 80 percent last year, while the sultanate’s plans to diversify revenues from oil dependence and reduce spending on a bloated public sector have made slow progress.

Oman is one of the weakest financially oil-producing Gulf states, but it has long played a mediating role in efforts to resolve regional conflicts because of its foreign policy neutrality.

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Oman’s newly sworn-in Sultan Haitham bin Tariq (Photo by – OMAN TV / AFP)

The Sultanate has intensified its diplomatic efforts, with the aim of reaching a ceasefire in Yemen between the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the movement for more than six years.

Talks between the coalition and the Houthis focus on steps to lift the blockade imposed on the Houthi-controlled ports and Sanaa airport, in exchange for a promise from the movement to hold talks to reach a truce.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis expelled the internationally recognized government from the capital, Sanaa.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis were killed in the war and the war pushed the country to the brink of famine.

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