Speaking at the annual session of the Council of Oman in 2012, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said declared that when it came to foreign affairs, the sultanate maintained a consistent policy based on “peace, harmony and close cooperation with all nations”. Indeed, since Sultan Qaboos assumed the reins of power in 1970, Oman has followed a path that seeks the peaceful resolution of disputes, with non-interference and neutrality as central principles. At the same time though, the sultanate has not interpreted neutrality as isolationism and has instead shown itself ready to engage internationally, with the aim of bringing its diplomatic skills to bear for the creation of regional and global balance and stability.
LOOKING OUTWARDS: Indeed, when the sultan first came to power, the country was largely cut off from the international community, looking to the UK and India as its only substantial overseas partners. This changed rapidly once Sultan Qaboos took the helm. From the beginning, the sultan was determined to bring the country forward, both in terms of its economic development and in terms of its role in the region and the wider international environment. Oman’s “economic renaissance” thus went hand in hand with a policy of ending previous isolation, particularly from the country’s neighbouring Arab partners. With this in mind, the sultan established UN and Arab League membership in 1971. Even while focusing on nearby Arab states, relations with traditional allies such as the UK and India remained strong, and indeed continue to be so today.
EMPHASIS ON DIALOGUE: Oman’s regional outreach involved supporting the peace process between Egypt and Israel that resulted in the 1979 Camp David agreement, a move unpopular with some other Arab states, but which established a basis for peace. At the same time though, Oman has been consistent and firm in calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state, condemning Israel’s ignoring of international resolutions on the Palestinian question and its aggressive policies. Oman officially supports the 2002 King Abdullah peace plan, and Muscat has maintained good relations with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, while also meeting with the leaders of Hamas. Engagement with all parties involved in the conflict has thus far been Oman’s policy.
The Iranian Revolution in 1979 challenged Oman’s traditional close relations with Iran, but ultimately resulted in the sultanate maintaining this important diplomatic, cultural and economic link. The sultan also organised joint security efforts in the Strait of Hormuz region, signing a 1980 military accord with the US. This facilities-access agreement has been subsequently renewed many times, most recently in 2010.
SUBCONTINENT & AFRICA: Ties with the subcontinent are also key. Oman is closer geographically to India and Pakistan than it is to fellow GCC members such as Kuwait. This has given it a different perspective on international affairs than some of its Gulf partners. The sultanate thus sees itself very much as Arabia’s gateway to South Asia, with the current development of ports such as Duqm, Salalah and Sohar a clear part of this strategic outlook. In tandem with these stronger links with India, Oman has also pursued better trade ties with African states. This has been done in part through the Asian Cooperation Dialogue and in part via its historical ties to the countries of East Africa such as Zanzibar, Tanzania, Ethiopia and South Africa.
PARTICIPATION: In the wider world, Oman is not only an active member of the UN, but also of the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation – which it joined in 2000. In terms of foreign economic policy, the sultanate has been active in pursuing good relations and free trade agreements with countries far beyond its borders. Today Oman is a member of over 105 international organisations and maintains diplomatic relations with 140 countries. Much therefore has changed since the sultan took power, with Oman now internationally recognised for promoting dialogue and peaceful solutions to global problems.
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