Alwaght- The Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tarik is set to visit Iran in a trip many analysts call significant politically and economically. Omani state media said that bin Tarik will arrive in Tehran today at the invitation of Iranian President Seyyed Ibrahim Raisi with his visit aimed at discussing boost of bilateral ties and regional developments. He will be accompanied by a high-ranking delegation including deputy defense minister, foreign minister, justice minister, and a number of businesspeople.
The visit comes exactly a year after President Raisi’s visit to Muscat during which the two countries signed multiple MoUs, showing their will to expand their relations at all levels.
According to media reports, bin Tarik’s talks with President Raisi will focus on deepening the existing cooperation and seeking new ways in favor of bolstering bilateral interests. The visit will make an opportunity for strengthening diplomatic relationship, sharing views on regional challenges, and promoting stability in the region.
Boosting economic and trade partnership
Bilateral trade between Iran and Oman is one of the most important issues emphasized on during visits of high-ranking officials of two countries. Such visits, many agree, can bolster their partnership.
Mohammad bin Abdul Hossein Baqir, the head of the Omani side in the Omani-Iranian Business Council, said: "Sultan Haitham bin Tariq's official visit to Iran has great goals, and by increasing the volume of trade, investment, and partnership, it will develop the economic relations of two friendly countries.” He added that Omani Chamber of Commerce and Industry will shore up business relations with the Iranian side, and several Omani and Iranian trade exhibitions will be held in the two countries this year.”
According to Iranian customs statistics, Iran's exports to Oman last year reached $1.087 billion, showing a growth compared to the year before which was $716 million. On the other hand, the volume of Iran's imports from Oman in 2022 showed a 29 percent growth compared to the year before. Imports from Oman last year were $800 million and in the year before were estimated at $619 million. According to reports, more than 2,000 Iranian companies operate in different economic sectors of Oman. These statistics show that the relations between the two countries have increased under administration of President Raisi and main area of their cooperation is energy, where Iran is supposed to provide part of the needs of the Omani side.
Two months ago, Omani Minister of Energy and Minerals Salem al-Awfi, sounded upbeat about progress of work on an Iranian pipeline for gas supplies to Oman. Maintaining that gas imports from Iran are not because of need for this gas, the Omani minister said: “Oman is self-sufficient in providing its own gas for the next 10 years, but importing Iranian gas has benefits to the country, including exporting it in the form of LPG or blue hydrogen and expansion of home industries by linking them to India and the UAE. Anyway, all options are open, and with the supplies of Iranian gas to Oman, all options are possible.”
According to the agreements signed in 2013, Iran was supposed to export 28 million cubic meters of gas annually through a 400-kilometer pipeline from the seabed to Oman, and part of it would be transferred in liquid form to India and other countries. But due to the US sanctions, the project made no progress. However, President Raisi’s administration is pursuing this plan seriously, and agreements have been signed between the officials of the two sides, and it is expected to come to fruition thanks to efforts made.
Oman has made technological and infrastructural progress in transforming natural gas into LNG and its transfer to other countries via tankers. Tehran and Muscat can work together in this area and use their capacities and deliver liquid gas to customers.
In addition to expanding economic relations with Iran, Oman has recently initiated military cooperation with Tehran, something significant and can prove as a launching pad for growth of relations among Persian Gulf states. Last month, a number of senior Iranian military officials headed by Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces Major General Ali Bagheri visited Muscat and met with Omani military officials. The two sides announced their readiness to increase military cooperation and create security in the Persian Gulf and emphasized that peace should be established by the neighbors themselves and not by foreign powers. The military cooperation between Iran and Oman can be a prelude to Iranian cooperation with other Arab countries to bring about some kind of convergence in the military area.
In general, Oman has a special place in Iran's foreign policy, and over the past four decades, the Arab sultanate with a policy of neutrality has practically made a balancing factor in Tehran’s relations with the Persian Gulf Arab states and also a reliable mediator for Iran in regional and international cases. The country is a kind of linking ring between Iran and the Arab countries and can guide the two sides to economic and military cooperation.
Mediation for release of Iranian and Belgian prisoners
In addition to bilateral issues, regional and international cases are on the agenda of bin Tarik’s Tehran visit. One is mediation for prisoner release. After the official announcement of bin Tarik's visit to Tehran, Oman's Foreign Ministry announced on Friday that the country's mediation between Belgium and Iran for the release of the detained citizens of the two countries was successful and the two released persons will be transferred to Muscat for exchange. Following this agreement, Asadullah Asadi, the Iranian diplomat arrested in Brussels, was exchanged with a Belgian prisoner named Olivier Vandecasteele and returned to his country. The issue of dual nationals and Western nationals in Iran has always been one of the most challenging issues between Tehran and the West, and Oman has played a role in the release of prisoners from both sides several times.
Also, in Iran the name of Oman is reminiscent of the nuclear case, and it seems that this time, too, the case will be raised during the visit. Though the Americans say they are not focusing on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal and took it off their agenda, it seems that the Omanis are once again taking a chance to conclude this case.
Therefore, bin Tarik will possibly carry messages from Washington to Tehran around the nuclear talks and release of dual nationals on whom the White House officials insist. In fact, among the Arab countries, Oman has significant capacities in creating diplomatic initiatives, because it has good relations with Iran, and its relations with the Arabs and with the US and European members of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive plan of Action) are constructive and unchallenged. For this reason, it can make a good mediator settling differences between Iran and other actors.
Mediation between Tehran and Cairo
Seeking reconciliation between Iran and Arab countries, this time, too, Oman is trying to reconcile Iran with one of the Arab world's most important and influential countries. Before Tehran, he visited Cairo and talked to senior Egyptian officials. Arab media reported that the Sultan of Oman's visit to Cairo could be a prelude to mediation between Iran and Egypt, and one of the topics discussed between the two sides was the normalization of relations between Tehran and Cairo, and the sultan announced his readiness to mediate.
“We hope that all existing political differences between Iran and the Arab countries will be resolved,” Abdullah bin Nasser al-Rahbi, Oman's ambassador in Cairo said.
Oman hosted three rounds of Iranian-Saudi negotiations last year that ended in a détente agreement between the two regional rivals in China. The agreement demonstrated that in this twisted path, the Omanis can play a constructive role. Oman can do the same for an Iranian-Egyptian rapprochement. In recent months, Cairo leaders said they are happy to improve relations with Iran, and meetings were held between officials from both sides, and it seems that opportunity is ripe for a détente.
Yemen crisis settlement
One of the cases that will possibly be raised is settlement of Yemen crisis. Although after Iranian-Saudi rapprochement deal Yemen war was expected to end after 9 years, no effective measure has been taken in this regard, and the only mentionable progress was the meeting of Saudi and Ansarullah Movement in Sana’a to discuss prisoner swap. Ansarullah leaders are losing patience as no war, no peace situation has continued over the past months. They argue that the Saudis are time wasting in the negotiations and delaying lifting of blockade.
Ansarullah leaders have repeatedly warned that if Riyadh intends to continue the blockade and occupation, they will target depth of its soil and their hands are on trigger. Ansarullah insists that there will be no peace deal until withdrawal of the aggression forces from the southern parts of Yemen and that it is capable of taking back from the occupiers rights and resources of Yemeni people using force. Having in mind that the Yemenis are infuriated with the current situation of uncertainty, war can re-erupt if Ansarullah decides to resume its strikes on Saudi Arabia and the UAE to break the blockade.
Oman, which has been mediating between Ansarullah and Riyadh over the past year to end the conflict, finds continued crisis dangerous to Persian Gulf peace and tries to settle the crisis in association with Iran and Saudi Arabia as tensions between the two regional heavyweights have winded down.