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May 27 2006 Agence France Presse
Oman shows solidarity with Iran in nuclear standoff
Sat May 27, 2006 15:09

Oman shows solidarity with Iran in nuclear standoff: analysts
by Christian Chaise
May 27 2006 Agence France Presse

Oman has quietly distinguished itself among Gulf countries as showing the most interest in avoiding a potential US strike on Iran and the least concern over the prospect of a nuclear power next door, analysts say.

With its nearest shoreline just 50 miles (80 kilometres), across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, Oman's subtle solidarity with the Islamic republic owes in part to fears of how isolation and military action could affect Oman's own economy and stability.

"The problem (for Oman) would not be Iran having nuclear weapons, but a US strike," said one diplomat in Muscat. "If Iran were isolated, boycotted, that would affect Oman's own relations with Iran."

Russian and German foreign ministers separately toured the Gulf this week in a bid to gain support for European-backed plans to convince Iran to halt sensitive uranium enrichment, in an escalating standoff over Iran's nuclear aims.

However, Oman backed away from its slot as proposed leader of a diplomatic mission to Iran, leading Qatar to admit on Thursday that the six Gulf Cooperation Council members had been unable to hammer out a common stance.

"There is no initiative in a real sense by the Gulf states, it is more that we support and encourage a diplomatic solution to this issue," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani said.

The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait had been among the six wealthy Gulf monarchies -- also including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar -- to talk of plans to send a delegation to Tehran to "tell the Iranians about our fears."

Oman's foreign minister swiftly denied Monday that a visit to Iran was imminent, saying it was only an "idea that was considered."

"Some Gulf states worry a lot about Iran and its nuclear ambitions," said a second diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Oman is more relaxed, because it has always had a neutral policy."

Omani leaders have said publicly they have no reason to doubt Iran's assertion that its nuclear program is peaceful, despite claims by the United States that it is solely a cover for atomic weapons-making.

"One doesn't find at all the prickly reactions in Omanis that can be seen in the UAE, Saudi or Bahrain," one Western observer told AFP.

"Omanis are sure that Iranians want to have nuclear weapons... but what scares them more is the prospect of American strikes because they see the region as already handicapped by a number of conflicts and can't handle another crisis."

Even though economic sanctions on major trading partner Iran would undoubtedly impact the economy of Oman, the reasons for the Gulf state's solidarity are also historical.

During the 1970s under the shah's rule, Iranian soldiers came to the aid of the Omani sultan in suppressing a rebel uprising in the south.

Oman was also the only Gulf country to maintain good relations with the Islamic republic during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

"Oman understands our position more than others, more than other countries," Iran's ambassador in Muscat, Mohammad Javad Asayesh Zarshi, told AFP.

"We don't think Oman would let the Americans use their bases... We don't think countries in this area would let foreigners use their land to attack Iran," Zarshi said.

"I think the officials in Oman will make a good decision, as they did during the (Iran-Iraq) war."

Copyright 2006 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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