Everyone’s Friend: Oman in the Spotlight

Oman has brokered the release of Sarah Shourd, the US female hiker arrested and detained in Iran last year. She flew from Iran into Muscat yesterday, where she is undergoing medical tests. Omani officials have kept quiet about the details of the negotiations that led to her release, with the official explanation being a brief statement from the Foreign Ministry thanking Iran and expressing hope for improved future relations between the US and Iran.

Oman does not often find itself in the spotlight, and senior US policymakers appeared surprised that the Omanis were able to successfully negotiate Shourd’s release. Oman is a country few know anything about — I was amused that The Atlantic just released a hastily-written “Five Things to Know” about the country. As one Dubai-based analyst said:

“The Americans discovered the Omanis can be a good go-between, especially when there’s a human dimension… Tehran always opens its door to the Omanis.”

I found Oman on my radar about a year ago when I relocated to Dubai. It is a very easy country to visit, and I have driven over the border a dozen times during UAE road trips in the northern Emirates, and driven across the northern part of the country, seeing border castles, inland forts, and the capital of Muscat. Oman is a safe country with countless forts and castles, but what I’ve found most interesting in learning about its history is the country’s modern history and its truly unique foreign policy, which can be characterized in wonkish terms as a post-Cold War non-alignment strategy. In layman’s terms, that can be summed up as: “Let’s be friends with everyone!”

“Nope, no contradiction here.”

Consider Oman’s relationship with Iran:
* Oman was effectively neutral during the Iran-Iraq War and brokered the peace negotiations between the two countries that finally took place in 1994.
* Oman’s Sultan Qaboos was the first foreign leader to visit Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after last year’s disputed election.

Then consider Oman’s relationship with the US:
* Oman’s Masirah Island Air Base was the staging base for the failed U.S. attempt to rescue American hostages seized in 1979 in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
* Masirah was also an important airbase for hosting U.S. bombers, transports and gunships for the military push into Afghanistan after September 11.
* In 2008, when Cheney visited the Sultanate for talks, he went fishing in the Gulf of Oman, borrowing the sultan’s 60-foot royal yacht.

Four decades ago when Sultan Qaboos took power, Oman was an erratic hermit kingdom. Today it is the quiet friend of everyone. This subtle (and even humble) foreign policy stands in stark contrast to that of its other Arab neighbors, which tends to be characterized by thin skins and easily wounded pride that makes chest-thumping declarations of confrontation a common spectacle.

In the 1970s, Pakistan played a key role in brokering meetings between the US and China to allow for the reestablishment of US-China relations. Oman just could be the country to play the same role in US-Iran relations in the coming years.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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8 Responses to Everyone’s Friend: Oman in the Spotlight

  1. Pingback: Oman brokered release of female hiker in Iran | Politics in the Zeros

  2. Oman says:

    Oman’s relationship with Iran goes back 100s and 1000s of years .
    More links than can be imagined.
    The Minister of Commerce in Oman is a Shia – and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque interior should give a lot of pause for thought vis-a-vis Iran

  3. Pingback: Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Oman the Honest Broker

  4. Carrie says:

    I usually look at these countries with women’s rights in mind before I make an opinion on any other sort of policy. Oman does not fare so well in that regard, it would appear: “One of the major challenges to women’s rights advocacy and women’s status in Oman is the overall denial of basic civil liberties such as freedom of association and expression. Women also face legal discrimination and are afforded unequal rights under Oman’s personal status law. The personal status law, interpreted from Shari’a, governs matters of the Muslim family such as inheritance, marriage, divorce, and child custody. Oman is one of the few remaining members of the United Nations that has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). “

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  6. I like the “friends with everyone” policy. It’s certainly something I wish more countries would aspire to.

  7. yousuf ahmed says:

    Act Now in Support of CEDAW
    The Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW] has been ratified throughout the world by all but six countries: Sudan, Palau, Nauru, Tonga, Iran, Somalia, and the United States! How can this be? The U.S. was active in drafting CEDAW and it was signed by Jimmy Carter in 1980 so the U.S. Senate only has to ratify the treaty for it to go into effect. CEDAW has many supporters; including John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi. Let’s show them the far-reaching support that CEDAW has throughout the United States as we try to get this treaty ratified.

    Oman name not comes in the list, oman has rectified and it stands up on women right. Women in oman enjoys all freedom.

    please follow the link

  8. Pingback: ComingAnarchy.com » “Friends with Everyone” – Part 1: Historical Overview