Oman-Iran relations are seeing a remarkable recovery in the last few months. Recently Oman was paid an official government visit by an Iranian delegation led by President Hassan Rouhani. This visit is very important for the Persian Gulf Region. This is the first visit by the Iranian president to Oman since his inauguration in August 2013. The large Iranian delegation included the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangene, the Minister of Transport and Urban Development Ahmad Abbas Akhund, as well as heads of government agencies and large corporations.
Development of bilateral relations between the two countries is not prevented by the fact that Muscat is a member of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) that is known for its anti-Iranian sentiments, where Saudi Arabia plays the most important role. Oman tries to keep a distance from Riyadh and its tough attitude towards Tehran. Moreover, it would not support the idea of a union, which would include member countries of the Cooperation Council for Arab States of the Gulf. This fact was firmly stated by the Minister responsible for foreign affairs of the Sultanate, Yousef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, at the regional summit on security issues, held at the end of last year in Manama (Bahrain). “We are against the union of GCC countries,” said the diplomat, while stressing that Oman “would not prevent its establishment, however, it was not going to enter it.”
Many Arab experts, then, immediately stated that the reason for such statements was this state’s friendly relations with Tehran, since it is obvious that the new Arab alliance will be directed primarily against Iran. While Riyadh cannot establish contacts with Tehran, the government of the Sultanate of Oman, as some media report, is acting as an intermediary between the U.S.A. and the Islamic Republic, on the eve of the signing of an agreement between the “six” international negotiators (U.S.A., Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany) and Iran on its nuclear program. The possibility of signing of the document was elaborated in the course of the long US-Iranian talks on the eve of the opening of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, at the end of September 2013.
According to some reports, the Sultanate of Oman, since the election of Hassan Rouhani as the Iranian president, has held five meetings with representatives of the USA. The representatives of the American side were Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and the Vice President’s Adviser for International Affairs Jake Sillivan. In the course of these meetings, they not only discussed the nuclear issue, but also issues of regional security. As a result, Tehran agreed on the transit of American cargo over its own territory in the interests of foreign troops occupying Afghanistan today. Moreover, the first containerized cargo transit, as reported by some media, has already been carried out.
By the way, it should also be noted that although the Sultanate of Oman is a member of the GCC, where Saudis give the orders, the country has its own position on many issues that meet its national interests. For example, while Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – four of the six states that formed the GCC in 1981, announced about the introduction of a single currency, similar to the euro by the end of December 2013, Oman decided not to join the single currency agreement. Thus, the discussions, which lasted more than 15 years, have come to their logical conclusion. This is the latest example of the independent behavior of Muscat in GCC policy. Oman, unlike Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates also does not condemn the foreign policy of Qatar, and did not recall its ambassador from Doha.
It is not surprising that the Sultanate of Oman has good relations with Iran, including in the economy sphere. Deprived of the European market, the Iranian authorities focused on finding new customers, especially among their neighbors. In August of last year, the Iranian authorities had reached agreement with Oman for the construction of a pipeline for the supply of Iranian gas to Omani plants, busy with natural-gas liquefaction. Oil Minister Oman Mohammed al-Ramhi visited Tehran in early November and said that the construction of the pipeline will be completed in two to three years. In accordance with the signed memorandum, by the energy ministers of the two countries, natural gas will be imported for 25 years; the contract is worth $60 billion. Incidentally, according to the WikiLeaks website, the U.S. pressed Oman to refuse signing this agreement with Iran, and to find alternative suppliers – for example, Qatar.
And now, during the visit, all these oral agreements received a concrete embodiment. Iran has signed an agreement with Oman on gas supply to Oman of not less than 10 billion cubic meters per year. As the Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangene said, this agreement was preceded by numerous meetings and negotiations of the parties, and a final decision on the agreement was taken seven months ago, during Sultan Qaboos’ official visit to Tehran. The Agreement provides that the construction of all onshore and offshore facilities, as well as the laying of the pipeline will be at the expense of Oman. Recoupment of these costs will be financed through future revenues from the sale of gas, which will be offered to Oman and to neighboring states.
The pipeline, which will pump gas to Oman, will start at the Persian Gulf, from the South Pars Field. The pipeline will be 350 kilometers long, of which 200 kilometers will stretch over the sea bottom and 150 km on the ground. IRNA Agency noted that the agreement also provides for the establishment of a joint Iran-Oman Gas Company, which will assume “all issues related to marketing, maintenance of the pipeline and gas pumping stations, as well as strategic decisions related to the trade of gas,” said the Iranian Oil Minister. The entire project is estimated at nearly $1 billion and its implementation “will take at least three years”. The Iranian minister said that more precise figures would be announced later.
It is interesting that the Iranian side was actively using this visit and the Omani platform to promote their views and the country’s new policy. Iran is ready to cooperate with all the member countries of the GCC, said the Islamic Republic’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Muscat. “Our message to the other Gulf countries – We wish to develop friendly relations and cooperation,” said the Iranian minister. “Iran is ready to establish strong and fraternal relations with all countries in the region,” said Mohammad Javad Zarif, who made a tour of four GCC countries in December. He visited Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE. Unfortunately, the Iranian minister did not visit Saudi Arabia, although this kingdom is a key force in the Cooperation Council.
“The region does not need another war,” said the head of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointing to “the need for cooperation in order to overcome problems and difficulties.” Good relations between Tehran and Muscat, according to the Iranian Minister, can serve as an example for other countries in the region. The Iranian Minister noted the major role of the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos, in the “convergence of views in the region”.
Analysis of these facts leads to the conclusion that the Sultanate of Oman, although it is an Arab country, located on the Arabian Peninsula, maintains a certain political distance from other Gulf countries, and does not want to fall completely under the control of the more powerful and richer Saudi Arabia. At the same time, such a policy allows the Omanis to have friendly good relations not only with Iran, but also with many countries in the world, firmly enforcing the policy of peace, good neighborliness and non-interference in the affairs of others.
Viktor Mikhin, member of Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.