Treading softly - Oman's foreign minister visits Iran again
Prior to that, he had been in Yemen on a 3-day visit for discussions with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Dr Ali Mohammed Mujur, the prime minister.
As ever, the diplomatic language relating to both visits spoke of "exchanging views on regional and international issues of common concern." I think we can be certain that the wider repercussions of the tensions surrounding the recent Doha Summit would have received close attention.
Only a day before Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah's held meetings in Iran, Lieutenant-General Malik bin Sulaiman Al Ma’amari, inspector-general of Oman's police and customs and his delegation had met Brigadier Ahmadi Muqadam, head of Iran's Internal Security Services. The Royal Oman Police battle problems daily with illegal immigrants and drug smugglers landing on Omani beaches. Many of the offenders from Afghanistan and Pakistan have travelled via Iran.
As usual, the English language Omani press reportage on the meetings was relatively low key. The Irani media was also careful in its reporting, not obviously attributing views expressed by Manouchehr Mottaki to Yusuf bin Alawi.
Nevertheless, Mottaki asserted that "certain outside countries are seeking to disrupt the (forthcoming Lebanese) election through political sedition," naming Israel in particular. But Egypt was also a target. The Egyptian authorities have uncovered what they claim to be a Hizbullah cell comprising 25 men including Lebanese, Sudanese, Syrians and Egyptians. The authorities in Cairo say that the cell was planning attacks in country and proselytising Shi'ism. Hizbullah is widely regarded as a proxy for Iranian influence.
During the Israeli assault on Gaza early this year, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, charged Mr Mubarak with complicity with the “Zionist regime” urging him to open the Rafah border crossing to allow food and humanitarian aid to reach the beleaguered Palestinians.
Both Hassan Nasrallah and Iran have repudiated the Egyptian allegations as an attempt to disrupt forthcoming elections in Lebanon, despite Egyptian sources leaking confessions from some of the suspected men that they were planning to store supplies in safe houses near the Egyptian-Gaza border from where they could set off to operate against Israel.
Egypt must feel very isolated in the region at present. President Mubarak in turn had been hoping to use the opening of the Rafah crossing as an incentive to get Hamas and Fatah to peace talks. He must surely have relished his recent opportunity to get away from the pressure during his recent state and private visit to Oman.
The Iranian president was reported to have told Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah that "security in the region cannot be achieved except through regional cooperation." Cooperation which is evidently lacking at present.
So it was with some surprise that I read the following in today's edition of the Khaleej Times: "Oman’s minister in charge of foreign affairs Youssef bin Alawi this week praised the chief of Hezbollah," and “Iran’s and Oman’s position in regards to regional and global issues coincide.” Although the report is credited to Reuters, I haven't traced it there.
Oman was said to be more wary of Saudi Wahhabi influence than of Iran inasmuch as Wahhabism could affect social cohesion.
On the whole, I would agree that Oman takes a pragmatic and conciliatory approach to Iran. See an earlier post on this site, Diplomacy with Iran, a synthesis of reported meetings and contacts between the two countries.
The writer in the Khaleej Times explained that Omanis believe the GCC should not depend on the USA as its sole protector.
”When relations between America and Iran improve, as is expected, the Gulf countries will pay the price again,” Zaher al-Mahrouqi wrote in Omani daily al-Shabiba last week. “Iran has become stronger and is the only major player in the region.”I recommend the article as useful background but bear in mind that it appears to have been written in the context of a US oriented view.
Also see A glimpse into foreign policy, my analysis of Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah's address to Oman's Press Club in October 2006.