Over the past forty years, Oman has transformed itself into a modern country that is prospering from hydrocarbon exports, but is also attempting to diversify its economy. At the same time, it has maintained domestic stability and avoided the problems of radicalization that affect some of its neighbours. Much of this was credited to the leadership of Sultan Qaboos who has led the country since 1970.
Sayyid Badr, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave the delegation an overview of Oman ’s foreign policy. With potentially dangerous situations in Yemen to the South and Iran to the East, Oman must play a role that promotes stability in the region. In general, Omani foreign policy is based on the principles of non-interference and good relations with all neighbours. As for specific issues, Mr Badr focused on Yemen, Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict. In Yemen, he noted that poverty is a driving force of radicalization and instability, and that Oman engages regularly with Yemen to promote stability. Mr Badr stressed that Iran could play a constructive role in the region if trust could be established between itself and Western states. He also underlined the Arab-Israeli conflict as an issue that undermines confidence in Western intentions within the Arab world and cautioned against open-ended diplomacy that does not produce tangible results.
The GSM also met with representatives from the two legislative bodies, the elected Shura and the State Council, whose members are appointed by the Sultan. The members of the Shura were adamant that the Arab-Israeli conflict was responsible for the vast majority of the problems in the Middle East and that its resolution would produce progress on a variety of issues including relations with Iran. The issue of NATO’s relationship with Oman was discussed with the State Council. It was made clear to the delegation that Oman views its foreign relations primarily in a bi-lateral context and is, therefore, reluctant to become involved in NATO structures such as the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI). It was stressed that Oman is not at all hostile to NATO’s intentions and that Oman participates in ICI meetings as an observer. Regardless, Omani foreign policy is anchored in pragmatism and flexibility and it tends to avoid multi-national arrangements.
NATO member country ambassadors were uniformly positive about the progress of the country under Sultan Quaboos and stressed that Oman generally plays a positive role in the region. Some noted that Oman quietly assists NATO missions in the region by allowing coalition ships to refuel and re-supply in its ports. They also noted that Omani officials are privately concerned about Iran ’s nuclear program and its effect on regional stability, although they also see a role for Oman as a bridge between Iran and Western countries.