Oman plays a balanced role in relations with Iran

Photo: A waterfall in the Dhofar region of Oman (by Shutterstock)

On the official visit to Tehran on May 28, by the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, Ahmad Abdul-Rahman writes about the Omani approach to regional and international policies 

The visit, as mentioned in the news published on the Oman News Agency (ONA), aimed at continuing consultation and coordination between the two countries regarding developments on the regional and international fronts, as well as strengthening aspects of their existing cooperation.

 American reports said that the visit of the Sultan of Oman to Tehran came as part of his efforts to mediate between Iran and the US, as well as to monitor the impact of the Saudi-Iranian agreement on the Yemeni front, which continues to falter.

Perhaps it was unusual in the Arab world and the Gulf in particular that the Sultanate of Oman exercised its foreign policy cautiously, leaving channels of communication open, and not persisting in disagreement. Historically, Omani politics are characterised by positive neutrality or non-alignment.

The pillars from which the Omani foreign policy is based, such as peaceful coexistence, good neighbourliness, non-interference in internal affairs and respect for the sovereignty of states are general principles of the Charter of the United Nations. However, the question remains as to what makes Omanis unique? And does Oman want to be a peacemaker and a neutral mediator?

During the 50 years of the rule of the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Muscat adhered to positions in the face of specific challenges facing the Sultanate, and contributed to the uniqueness of Omani politics.

During Sultan Qaboos's rule for 49 years, Oman managed its relations with the countries of the region and the world, strategically, especially in light of the existential challenges that targeted Oman. Perhaps the most prominent of these challenges was the former leaders,' confrontation with the rebellion in the south of the Sultanate. This rebellion extended for more than a decade, and he inherited most of it from his father's regime, as part of the attempts of the socialist regime of southern Yemen to export the revolution to other countries in the region. At the time, the rebellion was backed by the former Soviet Union.

When Sultan Qaboos turned to his Arab brothers for military support, he received some help, but not enough to end the rebellion. In 1973, the Shah of Iran helped, providing decisive military support, specifically air support that put down the rebellion.

Iran in Omani politics

Despite the tension in Arab-Iranian relations due to Tehran's expansionist project following the victory of the Khomeinist revolution in 1979, when Tehran took escalatory dimensions that were manifested by spreading sectarian ideology and terrorist militias, Oman continued to develop its relations with other countries. With the new regime in Tehran, after the fall of the Shah of Iran, its main ally in the Omani Civil War was Iran.

The Iraqi-Iranian war in 1980 was an example of the Arabs lining up to deter Tehran's endeavour to destabilise regional security and stability but Oman remained outside this alignment. It found that its special relations with Tehran had become a means of opening dialogue between the Arabs, the West and Iran, and this channel constituted an important key to its regional and international influence.

Oman's role internationally and regionally

When Sultan Haitham bin Tariq took over the reins of power in Oman to succeed Sultan Qaboos, he confirmed in his first statements that he would follow the same approach that the late leader had taken. The principles he laid down for foreign policy related to peaceful coexistence among peoples, non-interference in the internal affairs of others, and good neighbourliness. This pillar was and still is the secret of the strength of Omani foreign policy, which has contributed to the continuous mediation between Iran and America that began after the Khobar terrorist bombings in 2004 in which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were involved, and the subsequent contacts that paved the way for reaching the nuclear agreement during the administration of President Obama in 2015.

Oman continues to be a mediator between it and Washington. This is more important than ever that it take on this role with the increased tension in the Gulf between the Revolutionary Guards from Iran and the American forces stationed in the region, and in light of expectations that a return to the nuclear agreement could be made. Sultan Haitham also carried with him to Tehran an important message to end the bloody Yemeni conflict which has gone on for more than eight years, and to call a halt to the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the region. This is even more important given the Saudi peace initiative and the Saudi-Iranian agreement to normalise relations.

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Saturday, 30 September 2023