Oman has not joined the US-led chorus prevalent in the rest of the GCC states to isolate Iran. Instead, Oman has consistently pursued engagement with Iran as being in its own best interests. Oman has never been too friendly with the Saudis, especially as they funded and supported the Iman of Nizwa's rebellion, and sees Iran as a regional balance against any attempted dominance in the region by the Wahabis of Saudi, as exemplified by the recent protests in Bahrain.
This has enabled Oman to act as a trusted intermediary between the US and Iran. The results of this were evident last week as Oman secured the release of the 2 American 'hikers', who were apparently stupid enough to go wandering near the Iraq/Iran border and got nabbed by the Iranians and thrown into jail for 'spying'. (I mean, come on, who would ever think that it's a good idea to go anywhere near Iran if you have an American passport?)
HM not only negotiated for their release, but also personally paid the Iranian's
So Barack Obama gave HM a call yesterday to personally thank him.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama thanked Oman's Sultan Qaboos on Friday for his role in getting Iran to free two US hikers jailed there for spying and illegal entry for over two years.
Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, both 29, were flown into Muscat on an Omani Royal Air Force plane Wednesday after the Gulf sultanate of Oman paid their $1 million bail to get them released from Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Their case had poisoned already tense ties between Tehran and Washington.
Obama called Sultan Qaboos bin Said "to convey the United States' deepest appreciation for the Sultan's exceptional and successful role in securing the release of the young American hikers from Iranian detention and the cooperation between our governments in this endeavor," the White House said.
"The president expressed our gratitude to the sultan and his special envoy, Salim al-Ismaili, for sparing no effort to secure the release of Sarah Shourd last year, and Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal this past Wednesday, thus ending a painful chapter for the hikers and their families."
Shourd, Bauer's fiancee, was released last year on $500,000 bail also paid by Oman.
During their call, Obama and Sultan Qaboos "affirmed that the friendship and partnership between our two nations, as manifested in our cooperation for the release of the hikers, have only grown stronger, and that the United States and Oman will continue to work together on a broad range of common interests," the White House added in its statement.
I just hope HM asked President Obama for a visit (the last visit by a US President was Clinton). Something timed just after the Shura elections next month would be great PR for both of them. The press releases would almost write themselves. What greater contrast with the on-going disaster that is Yemen?
Photo: Judgmentally-challenged American hikers Shane Bauer (L) and Josh Fattal hold a press conference after arriving free in Oman (ripped from AFP, Mohammed Mahjoub)
A history of Military Cooperation
The close relationship between Oman and the USA is something the Omani Government has always avoided discussing in public (see the wikileaks cables), afraid of stirring up those Omanis and other Arabs who would get worked up about such superficial issues as Israel, US foreign policy, etc.
Oman has allowed the US to place emergency war materials [USAF Prepositioned War Reserve Materiel, aka WRM] in Oman for decades, recently extending in December 2010 the 10 year duration Base Access Agreement (BAA) first agreed in 1980. In return, the Americans are being allowed to build (at their own cost) a new 36,000 sqm warehousing facility for this purpose, plus a large refueling capability, at the Oman Airforce base in Al Musannah, north of Muscat, to the tune of a whopping $166 million. This will replace the previous facilities at Seeb. The details are publicly available via the US Airforce budget submission to Congress for funding.
... A requirement exists to construct a new airlift apron, taxiway and lighting along with fuel storage and distribution system to support two C-5 or equivalent commercial wide body strategic airlift aircraft at Al Musanah AB, Oman. The fuel storage delivery system must be capable of sustaining a maximum of four(4) C-5 flights a day for seven (7) consecutive days. Maximum fuel load calculated at 189,270 liters per flight.
In support of Overseas Contingency Operations, Al Musanah AB has been designated as a key strategic location for future US development. The Sultan of Oman has mandated that the US War Reserve Materiel (WRM) outload site at Seeb be relocated due to the commercial development of Seeb International Airport.
The Sultan of Oman has offered Al Musanah AB as a viable alternative to Seeb AB. The US government has accepted the offer and consequently developed a long range strategic and tactical plan that fully develops Al Musanah AB in accordance with future US defense posture plans. The initial phase relocates the entire WRM compound from Seeb by FY 12 (AMAB 08-3000). The follow phase (this project) begins the initial strategic development phase of this effort by developing a limited "Gas-n-Go" capability. This capability will provide aircraft with the ability to land at Al Musanah AB, refuel and then depart toward a final destination.
There is a lot of information about the relationship between Oman and US available via the US Congressional Research Service, especially stuff written by their Middle East expert Kenneth Katzman, eg here. A quote:
The Sultanate of Oman is a long-time U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf; it has allowed U.S. access to its military facilities for virtually every U.S. military operation in and around the Gulf since 1980, despite the sensitivities in Oman and throughout the Middle East about a U.S. military presence there.
The US is also long active at the RAFO airport base on Masirah Island, known as 'Camp Justice' and apparently nicknamed Moon Base Alpha by the American troops stationed there due to being pretty much at the end of the earth.