A Refreshing Dialogue Between Iran and Oman

A Refreshing Dialogue Between Iran and Oman
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Senior Expert Bilgehan Alagöz

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian went to Oman on Monday, January 10. This visit relates to the fact that Oman does not want both Iran and Saudi Arabia to be the dominant power in the Gulf from the past to the present, and in this context, it cooperates with Iran at critical times. For example, during the pre-Islamic Revolution period, between the years of 1970-1977, Iran gave support to Oman in suppressing the burgeoning separatist movements in the city of Dhofar, which is one of the underdeveloped regions of Oman, and the Omani-Iranian Military Friendship Committee was established in this context. It has turned into a relationship that continues until today.

As a matter of fact, within the framework of this committee, a high-level military delegation from Oman visited Iran on December 14, 2021, before Amir-Abdollahian’s visit. The two countries' officials announced that the naval forces will hold a joint exercise in the Gulf. This visit of the Oman delegation, which also met with Iran's Chief of Staff of Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri, is of particular importance in terms of its timing, despite the fact that it is part of the routine meetings.

Shortly before that, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince went to Oman on December 6, 2021, as part of his tour of Gulf countries. In this context, Saudi and Omani officials, under the Saudi Arabia-Oman Business Council, signed 13 agreements to set up projects. Moreover, although it has not been officially announced, it is known that one of the focal points of this visit was Saudi Arabia's desire to consult with the countries of the region about Iran's ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna. In fact, on December 14, while the Oman military delegation was in Iran, the 42nd summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The main agenda of this meeting was Iran and the nuclear negotiations currently underway in Vienna.

Taking into account all of these developments, it is seen that Iran wants to take proactive initiatives in response to the pressure Saudi Arabia wants to create on the Gulf countries and accordingly attaches special importance to relations with Oman. Since Oman did not hesitate to stand by Iran's side regarding Iran's nuclear program, both before and after the 2015 Nuclear Deal, and has indicated on several occasions that it does not perceive Iran's nuclear program as a threat to regional security. At this point, the main purpose of Amir-Abdollahian’s visit to Oman on Monday is to increase the stabilizing role of Oman in the Gulf against possible manipulation by Saudi Arabia during the ongoing process in Vienna.

Another important point that makes this diplomacy between Iran and Oman meaningful is embedded in the speech of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Khamenei said on January 9, "Negotiating with the enemy does not mean absolute surrender at a certain point”. Many people argued that these words opened the door slightly for direct talks with the USA. This has brought up the possibility of Oman to act as a mediator in a possible dialogue with the USA, just like before 2015, and to host secret talks between Iran and the USA. Therefore, it can be stated that the primary purpose of Amir-Abdollahian’s visit to Oman was to discuss the Vienna process. Another aim is that Iran wants to get support from Oman to ease the tension with Saudi Arabia in Yemen. As a matter of fact, Amir-Abdollahian also met with the Houthi’s top negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, within the scope of this visit. Although they are yet to reach a concrete result from the four meetings between Iran and Saudi Arabia on Yemen, it is known that Iran expects support from Oman in this regard.

Based on these insights, it is possible to say that a win-win approach prevails in Iran-Oman relations. Since Oman does not want Saudi Arabia to be the dominant actor in the Gulf, it attaches importance to relations with Iran and contributes to both regional dialogue and global diplomacy at this point. On the other side, Iran needs Oman's constructive stance to prevent the Vienna process from being interrupted and to counterbalance the pressure of Saudi Arabia. It would be correct to see Amir-Abdollahian’s last visit in this context.