AP NEWS

Oman, U.S. ally, seeking stronger ties with Iran, report warns

May 8, 2019

Oman, the key American ally that helped Washington broker the now defunct 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, is quietly seeking to bolster ties with Tehran at the expense of its relationship with the U.S., conservative foreign policy experts warn.

The tiny Persian Gulf country, often called the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” may have been complicit in Iran’s movement of weaponry to a key Tehran-backed proxy in Yemen, triggering unease among other U.S. partners in the region, according to a report circulated this week by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

“Oman’s commitment to stability in the region has become subject to doubt amid reports that Iran may have smuggled weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen by way of overland routes through Oman,” the report by the Washington-based think tank argued, asserting that “Israeli, Saudi, Emirati, and Yemeni officials alike have expressed concern.”

A Saudi-led Arab coalition has battled the Houthi rebels in Yemen during recent years. While the FDD assessment cited reports that the “crisis has passed,” it noted that Omani officials “deny that there is a problem” and argued that other overtures by Oman toward strengthening ties with Iran could result in the U.S. losing a strategic ally in the Persian Gulf.

The report suggested that Omani officials have grown frustrated in response to the Trump administration’s withdrawal of the Obama-era nuclear accord and expanding policy of ramping up sanctions and economic pressure on Iran.

But Trump administration should be wary about cutting U.S. ties with Oman, given the country’s status as “an important ally and partner,” the report said. “The U.S. should continue to maintain this relationship, but should demand that Oman adopt a truly neutral position regarding Iran.”

Oman is situated southeast of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and has maintained economic, political and military ties with both the U.S. and Iran since the early 1970s.

U.S.-Iran tensions, meanwhile, hit a new high Wednesday, when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran itself will now abandon parts of the nuclear deal, which could open the door for a restarting of Iranian nuclear enrichment activities.

“The path we have chosen today is not the path of war, it is the path of diplomacy, but diplomacy with a new language and a new logic,” Mr. Rouhani said in a televised speech.

The announcement came just days after the Pentagon ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and an Air Force bomber task force into the region, to counter reported threats from Iran to U.S. forces in the Middle East.