Why Has America Overlooked Oman?
This pipeline bears particular importance because it is tied to a project also under construction that will connect Iran to India, another player seeking to secure its interests in the region. With significant investment in the port of Duqm and the special economic zone surrounding it, hundreds of thousands of Indians working in Oman, and bilateral agreements on trade, technology and military exercises, India is working to secure a stable partner along its route to distribute goods to Europe and other emerging markets. And where India invests, China is often found, given their similar ambitions for growth. China intends to invest billions of dollars into the Omani desert near Duqm where a new industrial complex will employ Omanis, and construct storage facilities, refineries, and other transportation infrastructure to connect another link in the One Belt One Road Initiative. The attention of these two massive economies is an enormous boon to an Omani economy that has struggled to diversify with little international investment, but it does not constitute the only great powers seeking to court the sultan’s favor. Although Russia’s engagement in Syria at first upset Oman’s efforts to negotiate a settlement to the conflict, now the two nations are exploring possible cooperation in an effort to balance the influence that various international actors will have in territory once controlled by the Islamic State.
As the only neutral party capable of navigating the cultural, diplomatic and religious complexities within both the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts, it would be a mistake to sideline such an important strategic partnership. Other nations haven’t been so foolish; they have been expanding links to the country at a time when American investment in the region appears to have declined while remaining unconditionally supportive of Saudi Arabia. Wise political and diplomatic policy would elevate Omani voices in their pursuit to negotiate settlements among the recognized warring parties, especially since Saudi Arabia and its allies cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016 and have yet to reinstate them. As the Sultan’s diagnosis of terminal cancer raises concerns about a stable political transition after his death, American support for the continuation of Omani neutrality could be essential for keeping the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf from being interrupted, as well as maintaining a secure connection to Iran for future discussions—if they are deemed necessary. Despite the fact that the Trump administration reserves antipathy for anything that smells of Iran, the United States would be remiss in damaging relations with this valuable player in the complex Middle East.
Jacob Eishen is an intern with the Center for the National Interest's Regional Security program, where he works on projects relating to Middle Eastern affairs and climate security. He received his master's and bachelor's degrees from Miami University, where he wrote his thesis on individual disengagement with international terrorist organizations.