HOLDING THE MIDDLE GROUND

Oman 2016 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: OMAN AS A MEDIATOR

While the world celebrated a long-awaited deal between Iran and the P5+1, Oman can be proud of the role it has played in enabling the agreement.

The relationship between Iran and the US has not been a smooth one for either side for a number of years, but 2015 was an important year. A recent deal between Iran and the P5+1 was struck regarding Iran's nuclear program, which both sides are, so far, content with.

The deal has guaranteed that Iran give greater access to the International Atomic Energy Agency, while altering several of their facilities to ensure that they are not able to create nuclear weapons. It has been declared by some to be a monumental success, while others have been heavily critical. In the meantime, Oman has played a quiet but important role in promoting dialogue between the two nations and ensuring that this deal would be possible

Some have been hesitant to label Oman as a mediator between the two, mainly due to the fact that the Sultanate has often kept itself away from the taking any political stances. However, Oman has been a fundamental facilitator for the agreement, both by promoting dialog between the two nations and often acting as a host for delegations. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos also made a three day visit to Tehran in 2013 and, although the reasons for the visit were not confirmed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's words that Oman's relationship with Iran “highly important for peace and stability in the region” suggest that His Majesty's visit was linked closely to Oman's role in the wider negotiations.

The part played by Oman in concluding this deal has been multifaceted. In November 2014, negotiations took place between US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Iran's foreign minister Mohamad Javad Zarif at Al Bustan Palace Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Muscat. Both leaders were subsequently full of praise for Oman, Kerry thanking Oman “for the role they have played in helping to bring the parties together to be able to have these negotiations,” while Zarif said that “Oman's mediation is of substantial value to the world.” Oman was also critical in facilitating the passing of secret messages between Iran and the US back in 2013. Oman has also mediated the releasing of prisoners on both sides. Three American hikers were released in 2011 after their imprisonment in 2009, while Shahrazad Mir Gholikhan, the Iranian woman imprisoned in the US for allegedly smuggling arms, was released in 2012 with the help of the Sultanate's mediation.

Compared to the rest of the Gulf, Oman has an unusually strong relationship with Iran, both politically and economically. An MoU between the two nations was signed in 2013 regarding the export of gas to the Sultanate, and can begin to be executed now that Iran and the P5+1 have come to an agreement. Oman is undoubtedly one of the biggest beneficiaries of the nuclear deal. The amount of attention paid by the Sultanate is therefore critical to the country's economic prosperity as well.

It is, however, as a result of years of stability and neutrality that Oman is now in this strong position. Speaking exclusively to TBY, Dr. Mohammed Al Barwani, Chairman of MB Holding, spoke of the importance of Oman's political stability. “Oman plays the role of the Swiss in the Middle East. It is neutral and does not interfere in any other country's internal affairs, and it is conscious that it wants to play the role of the peacemaker in the Middle East.”

Nasser Bin Amur Bin Shwain Al Hosni, the CEO of Fincorp, one of the leading investment banks in the country, reiterated this point. “Foreign policy has been a good help. This is a country that has the reputation of being a friend to everyone in the region.” He also linked political stability as critical to the major investments that have happened at Duqm and Sohar, as a result of a strong relationship between Belgium and the Netherlands.
Various challenges are still faced by the Sultanate from an economic and social perspective, but ongoing stability has played a fundamental role in ensuring that they reap the rewards of Iran's nuclear deal. Not only will Oman benefit from this, but it is also in a strong position to facilitate talks between the belligerents of other conflicts throughout the Middle East, such as the ongoing war in Yemen. Diplomatically, Oman is a trustworthy ally and go-between and this will continue to support their economic development in the years to come.