U.S. President thanks Sultan Qaboos of Oman for mediation to release Americans in Iran

Oman expresses commitment in UN to preserve human rights, achieve welfare and growth

$1 billion investment in Muscat and Dhofar in five years

President Barack Obama thanked Oman's Sultan Qaboos on Friday for his role in getting Iran to free two US hikers jailed there for spying and illegal entry for over two years.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, both 29, were flown into Muscat on an Omani Royal Air Force plane Wednesday after the Gulf sultanate of Oman paid their $1 million bail to get them released from Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

Their case had poisoned already tense ties between Tehran and Washington.

Obama called Sultan Qaboos bin Said "to convey the United States' deepest appreciation for the Sultan's exceptional and successful role in securing the release of the young American hikers from Iranian detention and the cooperation between our governments in this endeavor," the White House said.

"The president expressed our gratitude to the sultan and his special envoy, Salim al-Ismaili, for sparing no effort to secure the release of Sarah Shourd last year, and Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal this past Wednesday, thus ending a painful chapter for the hikers and their families."

Shourd, Bauer's fiancée, was released last year on $500,000 bail also paid by Oman.

During their call, Obama and Sultan Qaboos "affirmed that the friendship and partnership between our two nations, as manifested in our cooperation for the release of the hikers, have only grown stronger, and that the United States and Oman will continue to work together on a broad range of common interests," the White House added in its statement.

Bauer and Fattal were arrested along with Shourd near the mountainous border with Iraq on July 31, 2009. All three have consistently maintained they innocently strayed into Iran while hiking in Iraq's Kurdistan region.

On August 21, Bauer and Fattal were each sentenced to eight years in prison by a revolutionary court in Tehran on charges of espionage and illegal entry.

They appealed against the ruling.

Their arrests angered Washington, which already has deep differences with Tehran over its controversial nuclear program, its refusal to recognize Israel and its support for militant groups in the Middle East.

The Palestinian bid for full United Nations membership has once again received the unstinting support of Oman.

The sultanate, which reiterated its backing at the 66th UN General Assembly under way in New York, also underlined that the future Palestinian state must be based on the 1967 borders as per international resolutions.

“We have worked together as an international community and encouraged negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the government of the Israeli occupation, but no progress has been achieved,” Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdallah said addressing the Assembly on Monday. “Therefore, the world has to take serious action and honor its commitments for a fair and lasting solution. We believe that the establishment of the Palestinian State on the borders of June 4, 1967 will lead to a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Speaking about the situation in Somalia, Abdallah observed that the country had fallen prey to civil war due to the failure of its political leadership in “rescuing the Somali people from the triangle of poverty, ignorance and famine”.

He called for a United Nation plan to establish peace and offer better humanitarian aid to that country in co-operation with the Arab League, the African Union and the Islamic Conference Organization.

Turning to other global issues, he noted that the continued financial crisis called for new collective efforts and solutions.

There was a need to put new principles for investment and international trade in order “to reach appropriate solutions to reduce negative impacts of these crises in countries and societies, particularly in developing ones,” he said.

He called for international efforts to avert a possible worldwide food crisis which, he said, threatened a large number of people with shortage of food.

“There must be an international effort to expand the production area through cultivation of larger areas and through using high technology to increase production and to combat desertification that threatens it,” the Omani minister said, adding: “There is also another issue we have to face that stems from the cosmos phenomenon, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and high percentage of environmental pollution, which lead to major human and economic loses.

“We believe that all countries, particularly powerful industrialized countries, should be united to find a solution to reduce industrial and environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions through introduction of modern techniques in this area,” he said.

Abdallah outlined the continuous achievements’ and progress his country had made in the area of human rights. This, he added, was “a matter of pride and satisfaction for us.”

He said the international community must consider the fact that the youth was now forming the majority in terms of population while making future plans for development, especially in the economic and educational sectors. “Youth is the most ambitious and the most capable of forming the future,” he remarked.

“Our region like the rest of the world witnesses deep changes and we think that the youth’s ambitions for better future full of security and good living should be welcomed by all governments,” he said.

Meanwhile, the pan-Arab tourism ministers’ meeting set the focal cities for the next two years, opened a call for nominations for 2014 and 2015 and asked Palestine to expose Israel’s bait-and-switch tourism tactics.

The Arab tourism ministers’ council selected Muscat as the capital of Arab tourism for 2012 and Damascus for 2013 at the end of the 14th general session in Aqaba on Friday.

Ministers called on Arab states to submit nominations for the tourist capitals for the years 2014 and 2015.

Arab tourism ministers, headed by Jordanian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, decided to support the program “Know Your Arab Country, Youth Tourism” through June in Algeria. They aim to strengthen Arab cooperation, promote multilateral tourism among Arab countries and to overcome all the difficulties they face.

Furthermore, they asked the ministry of tourism in Palestine to provide it with all information to expose Israel’s attempts to exploit heritage sites in the occupied Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights to promote tours to Israel.

Muriya Tourism Development Company plans to invest about $1 billion in the next five years in tourism development projects to be implemented in the Governorates of Muscat and Dhofar, said Adil Taqi, CEO of Muriya Tourism Development Company in a statement to Oman News Agency.

He said the company is developing four tourism projects in the Governorates of Muscat and Dhofar, namely Jebel Sifah, the City Walk project in the Governorate of Muscat, the Salalah Beach project, set up on 15.6 million square meters, and As Sodah Island in Dhofar.

Adil Taqi said while the company is committed to the agreements signed with the government to avail 500 rooms at the Jebel Sifah project by early 2015, it will complete it in 2014 with three hotels. The first four-star hotel will be opened in the third quarter of 2011 and two five-star hotels will be delivered in 2014. He said the Jebel Sifah project will have 805 rooms.

Muriya will be the first tourism development company to open a four-star hotel at integrated tourism complexes through Sifawy hotel, which will be opened during the third quarter of this year in Jebel Sifah, he said. The hotel will have 55 rooms and 25 furnished apartments.

The company will also be the first to open the Marina, to be launched this year in the Jebel Sifah project. Adel Taqi said Jebel Sifah will be an added value to the tourism sector in Oman as it includes Yacht Marina, Marina Town, Marina Boutique Hotel, four five-star hotels, 18 holes for golf course, cafes and restaurants.

Marina Town will also host retail shops. At this stage, 42 shops are ready. This part of the project will be central to the life in Jebel Sifah, along with utilities, such as banks, food outlets, travel offices, pharmacy, and restaurants, cafes, entertainment centers and others.

The project includes a number of villas and luxury apartments, some of which will be delivered by this year. Some of these residential apartments overlook the marina. The housing units are designed to world class standards.

He said the second project in Muscat is the City Walk in Al Hail area on the beach front. The company is finalizing formalities for allocation and development of land. He said the project will have a shopping promenade, a 250-room five-star hotel and shops.

He said the first project in Dhofar is Salalah Beach, located in a unique area between Taqah Spring and Humran, in 15.6 million square meters, including five hotels, marina, apartments and shops. It will have 1,407 rooms.

He said the company will open its second hotel and Marina next year as part of the Salalah Beach project. He said the company is committed to avail 500 rooms in 2015.

By next year end, the company will have 700 rooms in Salalah Beach project by opening the second hotel, which is completed as part of the integrated tourism complexes alongside the five-star Rotana hotel with 400 rooms, he said. The company will complete two more hotels in late 2013.

He said the marina, apartments and shops will be opened this year end or early next year.

The fourth project, A’Sodah Island comprises 32 villas overlooking the sea, a restaurant, a diving centre, health club and an Olympic club that will be managed by a renowned French company.

The A’Sodah Island project will enhance tourism in Dhofar in particular and the Sultanate in general. It is expected to attract high-net-worth individuals, such as state presidents and international figures.

On the economic benefits of such projects, he said the setting up of Muriya comes as a continuation of efforts of the government to develop the tourism industry in the Sultanate and achieve diversification of the national economy, create job opportunities for nationals and provide local companies with opportunities to take part in its implementation.

He said the company is committed to meeting stipulated Omanization rates and that more than 1,100 and 300 Omanis are working in Jebel Sifah and Salalah Beach, respectively.

Muriya Tourism Development Company is a joint venture between the Omani Government, represented by Omran (30 per cent), and Egypt’s Orascom Hotels & Development (70 per cent).

On the other hand, MUSCAT MEED, Middle East economic intelligence provider, is organizing Oman Investment Forum 2011 from October 10 to 12 to discuss growing number of investment and business opportunities in the Sultanate.

The conference is organized in association with Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development (PAIPED), Edmund O’Sullivan, chairman of MEED Events and Nisreen Ahmed Jaffer, PAIPED director-general for Promotion Investment said on Sunday. The forum has attracted top keynote speakers including senior ministers of the Sultanate, and top officials from leading financial institutions, O’Sullivan said.

Jaffer said during the three days in a mix of presentations and panel discussions, the delegates would be involved in debates on a range of areas related to project development and opportunities across Oman’s major sectors.

Ministerial speeches would be given by HE Sheikh Sa’ad Bin Mohammed Al Sa’adi, Minister of Commerce and Industry, HE Darwish Bin Ismail Al Balushi, Minister Responsible for Finance and HE Eng Ali Bin Masoud Al Sunaidy, Minister of Sports Affairs and chairman of Information Technology Authority.