Raisi’s Visit to Oman

Raisi’s Visit to Oman
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Senior Expert Bilgehan Alagöz

Iranian President Raisi, who went to Qatar in February, paid his second Gulf visit to Oman on May 23. Raisi, who was welcomed by Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tariq al-Said at the top level, also met with the Omani Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Omani business people, and the Iranians who live in Oman. In the context of deepening bilateral relations, which have been freshened up by the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to Oman in January 2022, this latest visit has economic and political reasons. 

The primary political reason is that Iran needs a mediation attempt from Oman to solve Iran’s problems with the regional countries and the international community. In this regard, the Iran-Saudi Arabia talks, of which the fifth session took place in Baghdad on April 21, under the moderation of Iraq, are very significant. In his press conference, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, who hosted the talks, said that Oman's initiatives played a major role in the resumption of the dialogue, which started a year ago and was interrupted. The end of the crisis in Yemen, which is the focal point of the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, is considered essential for regional balances, and in this context, the mediation mission of Oman in recent years, which is expected to host the next session of talks, come into prominence. 

Oman’s role as the mediator is expected to step in also in the nuclear crisis between the international community and Iran. The nuclear negotiations, which have continued for more than a year in Vienna between Iran and the P4+1 countries, have been paused in March 2022 because of Iran’s demand from the US to remove the IRGC from the terrorist organization's list, and it has directed Iran to seek new ways in its foreign policy. The Deputy Secretary-General/Political Director of the EU, Enrique Mora, was in Tehran on May 10-13, while the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was there on May 12. The focal point of both visits was the discussions regarding the future of nuclear negotiations. Nevertheless, the fact that the crisis has not been overcome despite all the efforts has increased the need for Oman, which had a constructive role in the emergence of the 2015 Nuclear Deal. In line with this, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov brought this issue to the agenda in his meeting with his Omani counterpart on May 11 during his visit to Oman. The Omani Foreign Minister Badr bin Hamad al-Busaidi, on the other hand, expressed that they are ready to make contributions for a potential return to the Nuclear Deal.

The other pillar of Raisi’s visit is economic expectations. Even though the Russian-Ukraine War was considered an economic opportunity by Iran at the first stage, the negative results of the war against Iran have come to the surface during the process. Iran’s crude oil exports to China have fallen sharply because China has preferred discounted Russian oil. The decrease in oil exports to China, which is the primary force to sustain the Iranian economy crushed under the sanctions, has made the Iranian economy much more problematic, which has been already fragile. Consequently, it led to an increase in protests in Iran recently. The situation has caused severe pressure on the Raisi government, and it has necessarily encouraged Iran to improve its economic relations with the regional countries. At this point, Oman, with which Iran has had good relations among other Gulf countries for a long time, has become more and more important for Iran.

 A few days before the Raisi’s visit, Iran's Oil Minister Javad Owji went to Oman. In his meetings with his Omani counterpart, it was decided to conduct joint explorations in the Hengam oil region, which constitutes the maritime border of the two countries. Likewise, it was decided to implement the agreement between the two countries concerning the construction of a natural gas pipeline under the sea, which was signed in 2003 but did not enter into force. As a continuation of these decisions, President Raisi signed 12 memorandums of understanding with Oman and paved the way for reviving economic relations with it. However, economic experts believe that it is challenging for Iran to establish these desired intense economic relations due to the ongoing economic sanctions.

Raisi’s one-day visit to Oman is a significant step toward overcoming Iran’s political and economic challenges. At least, it shows that Raisi acts according to the idea that good relations with the international community could not be established without improving relations with the countries of the region. Although this visit was prompted by the concern of what could be the alternative in the case of failure of nuclear negotiations, it once again confronted Iran with the reality of the importance of the nuclear negotiations for its relations with the regional countries.