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Remembering Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, a vital interlocutor for the US within the Center East

Remembering Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, a critical interlocutor for the US in the Middle East


By Bruce Riedel

Sultan Qaboos dominated Oman for 5 many years, shepherding its transformation from a medieval backwater within the Arabian Peninsula to a contemporary nation with good relations with all its neighbors — regardless of dwelling in essentially the most harmful area of the world. He turned a valued ally of the US. I had the chance to satisfy with him a number of instances, and people conferences illustrate how vital the Omani chief was for America’s function within the area. His passing comes at a really tumultuous time within the Persian Gulf, including extra uncertainty about the way forward for essentially the most harmful place on the earth.

Oman is at one of many nice crossroads of humanity. It sits between South Asia and the Center East with the Strait of Hormuz on its northern shoreline. Omanis are Ibadi Muslims, a novel sect that’s neither Sunni nor Shia. At its peak, the Omani Sultanate dominated from Baluchistan to Zanzibar.

Qaboos’ father dominated the nation like a private plantation, even protecting the treasury in a field in his palace. There have been solely three colleges within the nation, 19 medical amenities, and 10 kilometers of paved roads. The son was underneath de facto palace arrest after graduating from the British military academy in Sandhurst and serving for a yr with the British military in Germany. In 1970, the British — the previous colonial energy — assisted a coup to place Qaboos in energy and despatched his father into exile.

Oman has modest oil reserves, and Qaboos invested properly in infrastructure and growth. Colleges, hospitals, and fashionable amenities have been introduced in to the nation. In response to the CIA, by 1985 Qaboos had constructed 500 colleges, 100 medical amenities, and three,200 kilometers of paved roads. An elected parliament was created to assist the monarchy. Ladies can vote and be candidates for workplace. However 55% of Omanis are underneath the age of 25, and the nation has witnessed critical protests in 2017 and 2011.

Oman has hosted American troops since 1980, when the abortive hostage rescue mission in Iran was staged from Oman. Paradoxically, regardless of his shut relationship with the US, Qaboos solely made one state go to to Washington in 50 years. A recluse by nature, the sultan was all the time accessible for American officers who sought his counsel in Oman or Europe.

I first met Sultan Qaboos early in 1992, after he had already been on the throne for 22 years. I used to be a part of a State Division and Nationwide Safety Council staff touring the six Gulf states a yr after the liberation of Kuwait to talk to our companions within the area. Oman was the final cease on our journey.

The sultan was within the midst of his then-annual tour of the sultanate to satisfy along with his topics and listen to immediately about their issues. He was tenting within the desert in a bunch of tents along with his entourage and safety. We we’re helicoptered from Muscat to his get together. Qaboos spoke concerning the area for an hour, stressing the necessity to keep away from confrontation with Iran and search dialogue. Qaboos was a really spectacular monarch who was reaching out to his personal folks whereas pursuing a classy international coverage.

My subsequent appointment was in 1994, once I accompanied then-Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright on a tour of the members of the Safety Council to encourage them to take care of a agency line on containing Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Oman held an Arab non-permanent seat on the Council, and its vote was essential. I used to be the nationwide intelligence officer for the Close to East and South Asia, and my function on the journey was to offer a briefing utilizing satellite tv for pc pictures to display, graphically, how Iraq was systematically violating the U.N. Safety Council resolutions enacted after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

The assembly this time was in one of many royal palaces. It was a gorgeous gem of Omani structure. Ambassador Albright requested me to transient the sultan and present him the imagery. It was very compelling, however the sultan was already satisfied that the U.N. wanted to carry the road. He assured Albright that Oman was a agency supporter of the Safety Council resolutions.

Later that yr, I accompanied the director of central intelligence on a go to to the area, stopping in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. The Omanis gave us a fantastic tour of the nation, together with visiting a few of the outdated Portuguese forts constructed within the 16th century. The assembly with the sultan offered an opportunity for him to provide us a tour d’horizon of the area.

Quickly after, I left that place to turn into deputy assistant secretary of protection for a similar area. In that job I traveled continuously to Oman with Secretary of Protection William Perry. Perry is likely one of the most interesting public servants I ever had the pleasure and good luck to work with. Considerate and decisive, Secretary Perry was a vital member of President Invoice Clinton’s first time period cupboard. Qaboos was a fantastic interlocutor for Perry.

My most consequential assembly with the sultan happened after I returned to the White Home to be the senior director for the Close to East and South Asia in Clinton’s second-term Nationwide Safety Council. A lot of my consideration was dedicated to the assault on the U.S. Air Pressure barracks in Khobar on June 26, 1996, by which 19 Individuals have been killed and scores extra wounded. The proof was developed regularly, and finally pointed to Iran. However within the interim, Iran had elected a brand new president —  Muhammad Khatami — who publicly known as for relieving tensions with America. President Clinton wished to convey two messages to Khatami: Iran should not repeat the Khobar assault or face dire penalties, however that the US additionally wished to chill tensions between the 2 nations.

The president dispatched Assistant Secretary of State for the Close to East Martin Indyk and me to satisfy with Sultan Qaboos to ship the message on America’s behalf on to Khatami. It was our judgment that the sultan was the best-placed chief on the earth to get a message on to the Iranian president.

Indyk and I met with the sultan at his chateau exterior Paris in June 1999 at Fontaine Le Port alongside along with his very succesful International Minister Yusuf bin Alawi. Qaboos instantly agreed to be the middleman to ship our message. We had a solution again from Tehran in September. It was one other instance of the Omani monarch’s skillful contact.

My final assembly was in 2000, once I accompanied President Clinton on his go to to South Asia. On the way in which dwelling, Clinton made a brief go to to Muscat to see the sultan himself, changing into the primary U.S. president ever to go to Oman. Qaboos accommodated Clinton on brief discover and provided helpful recommendation on how one can take care of Syrian President Hafez Assad, his subsequent deliberate interlocutor in Geneva, Switzerland.

I’ve not met the sultan since, however I’ve visited Oman many instances since, together with its distant western province of Dhofar. Every time I discovered the Omani folks very happy with their chief. President Obama turned to the sultan and Oman to open the door to the Joint Complete Plan of Motion with Iran, the nuclear deal that has been thrown apart recklessly by his successor.

Qaboos was the 14th technology of his household ruling Oman. His footwear might be tough to fill. No successor has the many years of legitimacy and management that Qaboos loved, nor the coaching wanted. The disruption within the area as a result of disaster over the killing of Iranian basic Qassem Soleimani provides to the issues about the way forward for the sultanate. He had a novel view towards the Arab-Iranian and Sunni-Shia divide within the Gulf, one which confused engagement with everybody. I keep in mind seeing Iranian Navy ships in Muscat harbor not removed from vessels from the U.Ok. Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy. That distinctive viewpoint is far wanted at the moment. Let’s hope his successor may also help us discover a manner out of the damaging waters we’ve recklessly blundered into with Iran.