Iranian newspapers have reported with great warmth the visit of Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq to the country. During his visit, he met with the nation’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, with discussions including the attempts to restore relations between Egypt and Iran, which were severed more than 40 years ago and have been marked by tension and mistrust.
Khamenei displayed great positivity towards his special guest and said that Tehran has no problem in establishing a relationship with Cairo. Now Muscat has an opportunity to initiate a dialogue on unresolved political and security issues between the two countries. There will also be a chance to discuss the possible resumption of diplomatic relations. This may be an opportune time, considering the recent Iran-Saudi agreement that took place under Chinese auspices.
Iran’s political leadership is aware that Riyadh is the key to good relations with its Arab neighbors, provided Tehran refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of countries, and contributes to solving security and political issues, especially in Yemen. All of these actions will gradually build confidence between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and smooth the path to better relations with Egypt.
In an article published on the Independent Arabia’s website, titled “Riyadh, Tehran’s Gateway to the Arabs,” researcher Hassan Fahs, who specializes in Iranian affairs, pointed out the importance of Saudi Arabia to Khamenei’s possible rapprochement with Egypt. Fahs said that “the most important thing … that the Iranian leadership has already realized (is) that any opening to the Arab countries will not be possible and viable, unless it comes through the Saudi gate.”
If Tehran passes the foreign policy test of developing proper relations with Riyadh, it will encourage skeptics in other nations to seek political, security and economic cooperation with Iran.
Muscat is a major player for Iran in its attempts to ease relations with its Gulf neighbors. However, all these efforts will not be sustained if Iran does not show it is serious and flexible with regard to its intentions, including its overtures with Saudi Arabia.
Bin Tariq’s visit can ease regional tensions over Iran, especially since Muscat is working with Riyadh on the Yemeni situation. The aim is to have Tehran convince the Houthis to seek a political solution to the strife in the country, meaning a government of national unity, that would ensure peace and stability on the Saudi-Yemeni border.
For years, there have been tense relations between Bahrain and Iran. This comes amid Manama accusing Tehran of stoking tensions in the kingdom, often through the media, and sheltering several Bahraini opposition leaders, including several wanted by the security forces. Oman can gradually work on mending the severed diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Muscat is a major player for Iran in its attempts to ease relations with its Gulf neighbors. However, all these efforts will not be sustained if Iran does not show it is serious and flexible with regard to its intentions, including its overtures with Saudi Arabia. Let us not forget the important role of the UAE, which has maintained its relations with Iran even though there have been significant security and political disputes between the two nations.
The developments taking place in the Gulf seem to be occurring in parallel with efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal. It is likely that the Sultanate of Oman will also play an important role in this matter.
There are positives here, with the fundamentalist Iranian newspaper, Javan, saying that “there are regional and international signs in Iran’s foreign policy that indicate an upcoming nuclear agreement.” According to a translation of a report published by the Jadeh Iran website, the newspaper pointed out that “the two-day visit of Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq to Tehran ... put Iran and the West on the brink of an agreement on the nuclear issue.”
This intersects with an article published by Israeli writer Barak Ravid on the Axios website, in which he pointed out that “US President Joe Biden’s chief adviser to the Middle East, Brett McGurk, made a secret trip to Oman earlier this month to hold talks with Omani officials regarding a possible diplomatic engagement with Iran vis-a-vis its nuclear program, according to five US, Israeli, and European officials.” Moreover, the Biden administration has declared that “it is very concerned about the progress of the Iranian nuclear program and the risk that it could lead to a regional military escalation.”
It now appears that the Omani leader’s visit to Iran will likely be followed by several steps, which may lead to greater results than many would have anticipated. However, this depends not only on the efforts of Muscat, but also on others, mainly in Tehran and Washington.
• Hassan Al-Mustafa is a Saudi writer and researcher interested in Islamic movements, the development of religious discourse and the relationship between the GCC states and Iran. Twitter: @Halmustafa