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Oman’s motives for maintaining and expanding relations with Iran

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Farzad Ramezani Bonesh
Senior Researcher and Political Analyst

The history of relations between Iran and Oman dates back to the history of the two countries. Iran and Oman have different potentials for growth due to their geographical and neighborhood proximity and also having common religious, cultural and other backgrounds. Despite fluctuations in their relationships, Oman sought to expand its relations with Iran at all levels by the end of the Iran-Iraq War (especially after the Persian Gulf crisis). Oman is one of the few Arab countries in the southern Persian Gulf that has had strong and relationship with Iran in recent years.
Oman’s Important ipmetus for Continuing and Expanding Relations with Iran:
Over the past five decades, Sultan Qaboos has transformed Oman from a remote country to a key player in the Middle East and global diplomacy. With the death of Sultan Qaboos in January 2020, Haitham bin Tariq al-Sa’id as the new Sultan of Oman emphasized the continuation of the country’s past path. So there should be little expectation of a change in foreign policy attitudes. In this regard, Haitham bin Tariq has stated that “Omanwill continue the same foreign policy of Sultan Qaboos which is based on peaceful coexistence between nations and good neighborliness”. The following are some of Oman’s important motives for maintaining and expanding relations with Iran:

Geopolitical View:
Oman is a kingdom in the east of the Arabian Peninsula and south of Oman and the Persian Gulf. The country is bounded on the south-east by the Arabian Sea and on the north by Iran’s water borders. Although strategically located to the east and southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is close to Iran through the isolated part of the Musandam Peninsula in the northern part of the country (in the southern part of the Strait of Hormuz). The strategic strait of Hormuz lies between the two countries of Iran and Oman, so it seems that from the Muscat’spoint of view, they can expand the scope of their relations and play a role in the security of the region with by using consultations.

Oman’s Economic Growth Stability:
Although Oman is a small country with few facilities in the region, with a population of five million, it is the third largest port in the Middle East. It is also one of the best economically improved countries to start a business. In the meantime, there are plans to improve the country’s economic position in Oman’s 2040 vision, but economic development needs some degree of stability and development of foreign relations. Therefore, as Sultan Qaboos became popular among the people of Oman and was highly esteemed by Oman’s economic and social development, Sultan Haitham now seems to place greater emphasis on expanding economic relations with Iran in areas such as energy, oil and gas fields, joint economic projects, the North-South Corridor, the issue of energy swaps through Iran to Oman, and re-export of goods to Iran.

Iran card and balance with the Saudi Arabia:
Oman is a member of Arab League and the GCCin regional and international arena. Muscat, however, is opposed with the Saudi Arabia’s attempt for hegemony in the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, as Sultan Qaboos tried to use Iran as a weight against the internal leftists, now cooperation with Iran enables Muscat to adopt a neutral approach towards Saudi Arabia. By refusing to participate in the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen, the crisis of Qatar’s siege and mediation in the Gulf tensions after the attack on Aramco, Oman preserved the chance for its independence and the possibility of an independent maneuver against Saudi Arabia.

Mediating between US and Iran and reducing tension:
Oman, on the one hand, continues to be a close ally of the United States, and has extensive cooperation with the USby participating in countryand the GCC’smilitary exercises and its willingness to participate in the US missile defense program.
On the other hand, it has continued its relations with Iran. In addition, bymediationbetween Iran and the US in the past challenges such as US climbers, Iran-US nuclear negotiations, Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and playing the role of mediator between Iran and the United States, Oman has tried to reduce bilateral tensions.
In fact, Oman’s mediation between the United States and Iran not only didn’t cost a lot for this country, but also it led to the increasing of the country’s political prestige. Now, the Oman government is now in touch with both Iran and the United States, making negotiations between the two countries even more likely to achieve a breakthrough.

Reducing regional tensions with Iran:
It seems that the Oman officials believe that the Middle East is suffering from a lack of dialogue and in such circumstances, Tehran should be part of the dialogue. So it seems that Muscat is trying to do this in three dimensions. Firstly, in order to maintain its prestige and to keep itself out of further crisis or war, the policy of “friendship with all, hostility to no one” and the use of the principle of mediation in relations can simultaneously play this role between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Second, Oman’s relations with Israel in recent years have been a turning point in the country’s foreign policy. In the meantime, from the Oman’s point of view, avoiding from another possible war will result in further economic, political and social damage and destruction of development infrastructure, so Oman will seek to reduce Iran’s widespread tension with Israel.Third, given the regional role of Iran in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, Oman can also be an active mediator in the Arab League’s relations with Tehran.