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Oman takes a central state

Jul 29,2019 - Last updated at Jul 29,2019

Oman, an Arab country that helped facilitate talks between Iran and the United States, has just stepped in to mediate between Iran and both the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Amid a spike in tension over the Strait of Hormuz, Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi paid Iran a visit with the purpose of diffusing tension and finding a way out of the diplomatic standoff with London, especially after the seizure of a British-flagged tanker a few weeks ago.

It seems that the protracted standoff over Iran’s nuclear and missile programme was the main topic for discussion between Alawi and his Iranian counterpart. While, it was not made public that the Omani foreign minister was in a mediation effort, it seems that he would not have visited Tehran without closer coordination with the United States. Given Oman’s balanced strategic orientation, it is in an ideal position to mediate between the two sides of the conflict.

Implicit in Iranians’ statements and actions is a desire to negotiate with the United States to get out of its isolation and to ameliorate the impact of the sweeping sanction imposed in Iran. To be able to do that, Iran’s leaders need a victory narrative to sell it to its own people. For this reason, the bombastic statements made by various Iranian leaders do not reflect Iran’s proper position. Perhaps, the Omani officials realised that it is the ripe moment to step in and mediate between the two sides. 

Of course, Iranian leaders are not oblivious to the long-term game the United States is playing. Put differently, Washington seeks to give the sweeping sanctions the chance to bring the Iranian regime to its knees. It is hoped that Iran would face two choices: to negotiate from a weak position or to implode from within. Not surprisingly, Iranian leaders seek to negotiate but from a strong position. This, indeed, explains the seizure of the British-flagged tanker, targeting other tankers, downing an American spy drone and withdrawing from some commitments made by Iran in the nuclear deal.

Against this backdrop, the Omani officials understand well the bottom line of each side. President Trump needs a deal with Iran on the nuclear file, while Iran seeks to lift the sanctions to be able to export its oil. On top of that, Omani leaders see that a tradeoff is possible.

Issues relating to the security of the Strait of Hormuz could be sorted out as well. But time is an actor. If things are not addressed in the proper time and framework, accidental war should not be ruled out.

Against this understanding, both Omanis and Iranians stressed out the need to uphold the security of the Strait of Hormuz. Perhaps, a first step would involve putting an end of the row over the seizure of oil tankers, a step that has the potentials of oiling further diplomacy. It seems that Oman would succeed in addressing the Iranian-British ties, which has taken a hit during this month. That being said, it is worth remembering that the situation is complicated.

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