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Iran, Oman urge talks to end Yemen crisis

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Yemen should turn to dialogue to end a conflict with Shi’ite rebels that has complicated efforts to combat al Qaeda in the troubled Arabian peninsula country, Iranian and Omani officials said on Wednesday.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, came to the foreground of U.S.-led efforts to battle militancy after a Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda said it was behind a failed December 25 plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner. But the government of veteran ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh is also embroiled in a war with rebels of the Shi’te Zaidi sect in northern provinces and faces a separatist movement in the south.

Yemen has accused clerics in Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim state, of backing the rebels and Iranian media have attacked Saudi Arabia for joining in the war against them since November.

“We emphasised the necessity of adopting a solution to end the crisis. If it continues, it will bring not only instability for Yemen but influence the whole region,” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters after talks with his Omani counterpart Youssef bin Alawi.

“We insist on finding a solution to the crisis in Yemen, a solution that is based on negotiations,” he added.

The United States and Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda will try to capitalise on Yemen’s instability to spread its operations to the neighbouring kingdom and beyond.

Placed strategically on the peninsula’s southern rim, Yemen has shrinking oil reserves and faces a water crisis. Its population of 23 million is expected to double in the next 20 years.

Oman, a neighbour of Yemen, maintains close ties with Iran. It is also part of the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council that takes a hawkish view of Iran’s growing influence in the Arab region since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“We are prepared to support the Yemeni government in any way possible to find a solution to resolve security concerns there,” bin Alawi said in the comments carried on Iran’s English-language Press TV.