On August 25, 2013, the sultan of Oman, Kabus ben Said, arrived in Tehran on a three-day official visit, accompanied by a quite imposing government delegation.
The ruler of Oman is a remarkable personality. He is called a royal reformer and not for nothing. Having ascended to the throne in 1970, Kabus ben Said came to rule one of the most backward nations in the world. For the years that followed, the new leader managed to arrange cardinal political and social-economic reforms and turn the sultanate into a rapidly growing state. Within the lifespan of just one generation, a modern society emerged, with high living standards comparable to those of most advanced countries of the world. Sultan Kabus refused to invest oil revenues into the economies of the West, but directed them to creation of the national infrastructure, communication networks, and mining enterprises producing copper, chrome, coal and asbestos, the country’s own light and primary processing industries. He also secured funding to develop agriculture and tourism, housing construction and increase the living standards of his people. One of the main achievements of the Oman economy is the regular reduction of its dependence on oil output and oil export. Earlier oil exports accounted for almost the half of the state budget, but now they only yield about 20% of the income. Despite the Sultanate of Oman remaining a relatively small country in the desert on the shore of Oman Gulf with the population of about 3 million people, including half a million foreign labourers, the role and importance of this country in the region are quite significant.
There seems to be nothing to top the news of Sultan Kabus’ decision to visit Iran; moreover, this is already his third visit to Tehran. The previous one took place in 2009 and resulted in the signing of 8 bilateral agreements in various fields (politics, trade and economy, culture and security). It should be taken into account that Iran and Oman make joint efforts to maintain security of the Ormuz Strait connecting the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean and serving as the trading gate to the richest oil and gas region. About 40% of all oil sold on the global market is transported through the strait. Nevertheless, Oman is not a member state of OPEC, and therefore it is not limited by OPEC quotas and can choose the volumes of hydrocarbons to export. Due to this fact, the price of Oman oil is used as a reference figure to calculate current monthly prices for Middle Eastern oil. Therefore, there is aplenty of areas where Oman and Iran can cooperate for mutual benefit.
The increased interest in this visit on the part of the global media is primarily explained by the fact that Iran is still in political isolation and under economic blockade imposed by the USA, its European partners, a number of Persian Gulf monarchies and other states. Moreover, the world community has to adhere to the four packages of restrictive sanctions against Iran approved by the UN Security Council, under the pressure from Washington. The USA and Israel continue to view the Islamic Republic of Iran as their potential opponent in the region and they have recently launched an undeclared war against the Iranian regime. This war manifests itself in furious information propaganda, blowing up the myth of Iranian nuclear threat, killing Iranian nuclear scientists by special service agents, spreading various scenarios about planned military operations against Iran (air strikes, rocket bombardments, etc.), cyber-attacks against Iranian military and civil objects, war games and manoeuvers in close proximity to Iran’s territorial waters. Efforts of Washington and its satellites to overthrow Bashar Asad’s regime in Syria aim to strip Tehran of its ally in the region and tighten its isolation in the international arena.
In such situation, the Sultanate of Oman as a member of Gulf Cooperation Council, dominated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is hostile towards Iran, and as a country with close traditional ties with the USA and Great Britain, should have stayed away from rapprochement with Iran, theoretically. However, despite these circumstances, Sultan Kabus did come to Iran as the first foreign leader to visit Tehran after the convincing victory of the new Iranian President Khassan Roukhani. The Iranian government highly appreciated this friendly gesture on the part of the Sultanate of Oman and gave the warmest reception and particular attention to their high guest and his company. During his visit in Tehran, Sultan Kabus met and spoke to the spiritual leader of the nation Ali Khamenei, the president of Iran Khassan Roukhani, speaker of the parliament Ali Larijani, minister of defence Hussein Dehkan and other officials.
Political observers do not exclude the chances of Sultan Kabus coming to Tehran with a mediatory mission and even bringing along a “message from Washington” for the new Iranian president. This variant is possible though unlikely. In fact, Oman has some practical experience in mediation. In 2011, efforts by Masqat helped to free American tourists held up for illegal crossing of the Iranian border, and an Iranian scientist arrested in California on charges of violating the sanction regime. Even if Sultan Kabus did not carry any written message from Washington, it could not prevent him from discussing opportunities to establish a dialogue between the USA and Iran or between Iran and Saudi Arabia and offering the Iranian government to use his mediation services and his country as a place where representatives of the negotiating parties could possibly meet.
Soon after H. Roukhani’s election to Iranian presidency, U.S. President Barack Obama voiced its willingness to conduct direct negotiations with Iran as to its nuclear program, and the current Iranian leaders do not exclude this opportunity. The new Iranian president also makes no secret of his plans to assuage the remaining doubts of IAEA, as regards the peaceful nature of the national nuclear program, and achieve gradual reduction of UN restricting sanctions.
Due to his skill to keep normal relationships with the West and the Islamic states, Sultan Kabus is a very suitable person for mediatory missions. He does his best to ease tensions arising in the West from the Iranian nuclear program, and reduce the confrontation between Iran and its opponents represented by the USA, Israel, EU and Persian Gulf monarchies. An important moment to seek mediation by Masqat is the fact that citizens of Oman, in terms of religious views, are in an intermediate position between the Sunnite and the Shiite branches of Islam (they are Ibadis Muslims, a moderate wing of the Kharijites). Such position allows Oman to act as a mediator between Shiite and Sunnite communities.
As well as many other moderate leaders of the region, Sultan Kabus believes that the most important task for today is to extinguish the flame of hostility between Sunnites and Shiites, fed by external powers. This is where the grounds for the civil war in Syria lie, and where large-scale terrorist attacks and armed conflicts in Lebanon, Iraq and other Arab countries come from. Exacerbation of the Sunnite-Shiite conflict is threatening the security of the Near and the Middle East. It is natural that regional security issues were the focus of attention at Oman-Iran summit. The parties spoke for neutralization of any manifestations of extremism, and stabilization of the situation in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Tunis and other countries of this region.
The visit of Sultan Kabus to Iran showed certain progress in Masqat’s neutral position towards Tehran. Earlier Oman representatives limited themselves to moderate statements warning Tehran against possible negative consequences of developing nuclear arms, but now Oman openly recognizes the right of the Islamic Republic of Iran to develop its national atomic program, and does not believe there is any military component to it. Besides, Masqat is strictly opposed to a possible military operation against Iran, viewing it as a factor to further destabilize the situation in the whole Middle East. Oman also states it will not allow using its territory as a base area for possible strikes against Iran. Previously, the Chief of Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yusif ben Alawi has openly protested against presence of foreign fleets in the Persian Gulf and Oman Gulf.
We should also note the recent statement by Oman’s representative Sheikh Al-Isai in which he called on to Iran to take “joint effective measures to restore security and stability in Iraq.” He believes that Iraq Shiites and Sunnites have not been so hostile to each other before, and their conflict is caused by provocative actions of the USA. Actions of the West and its attempts to direct the Arab spring to suit its interests have also contributed to the change in Masqat’s mood. Oman also faced negative consequences of these events in February and March of 2011. In spite of the USA and their allies maintaining a moderate stance in regard to local protests, many people in Masqat considered reactions of the Western politicians and the media as being hostile to the very fact of existence of a monarchy in Oman. In particular, the sultan’s near circle was rather cautious about American calls to “accelerate democratic reforms” which in practice means a considerable reduction of the sultan’s power. The Arab world is feeling more and more deeply the effects of artificial democratization by Western patterns.
Obviously, during the sultan’s visit to Tehran, plans for extended mutually beneficial trade and economic relations were discussed. Iran and Oman signed a contract worth $60 billion. “According to the agreement we have reached, Iran will begin supplies of natural gas to Oman by way of a new gas pipeline in just two years, and this contract will last for 25 years,” said Iranian Minister of Oil Bijana Zangene. He said: “The agreement on construction of the gas pipeline and exports of natural gas is the largest economic agreement between Tehran and Masqat. It was reported earlier, that Oman is interested in importing over two billion cubic meters of Iran gas per day. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran and his Oman colleague emphasized the importance of the quadripartite agreement between Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan on the transit of goods and passengers.
On the whole, the visit of a high Oman guest to Tehran has clearly shown that Washington’s attempts to isolate Iran in the international area and in the region have failed. Even among monarchies of the Persian Gulf, not all countries were persuaded to believe in the mock nuclear threat or Shiite expansion by Iran. More and more people are beginning to understand that the source of instability and new outbursts of violence lies in provocative policies of the USA and their allies. Washington’s support of terrorist groups in Arab countries – both direct and via its satellites – and attempts to overthrow regimes opposing the West are the main reason for the growing tensions in the region.
Stanislav Ivanov, PhD in History, leading research associate of the Centre of International Security at the Institute of International Economics and External Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences, Near East and Middle East Expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.