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Oman - U.S. Relations

The United States has maintained relations with the Sultanate since the early years of American independence. A treaty of friendship and navigation, one of the first agreements of its kind with an Arab state, was concluded between the United States and Muscat in 1833. This treaty was replaced by the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights signed at Salalah on December 20, 1958.

A U.S. consulate was maintained in Muscat from 1880 until 1915. Thereafter, U.S. interests in Oman were handled by U.S. diplomats resident in other countries. In 1972, the U.S. ambassador in Kuwait was accredited also as the first U.S. ambassador to Oman, and the U.S. embassy, headed by a resident charge d'affaires, was opened. The first resident U.S. ambassador took up his post in July 1974. The Oman embassy was opened in Washington, DC, in 1973.

U.S.-Omani relations were deepened in 1980 by the conclusion of two important agreements. One provided access to Omani military facilities by U.S. forces under agreed-upon conditions. The sultanate of Oman became one of the keys to the new military strategy the United States pursued in the Middle East after the collapse of the U.S.-Iran relationship. In 1980, the United States secured an agreement with Oman that made it the only state in the Arabian Peninsula to permit an effective American combat presence on its territory during peacetime. The agreement involved building and improving military facilities for the sultanate as well as for the United States at four sites in Oman: Khasab, Seeb, Thamarit, and Masirah Island. Oman would own and use the facilities; but they would be available, with approval from the sultan, for use during emergencies by U.S. troops.

The other agreement established a Joint Commission for Economic and Technical Cooperation, located in Muscat, to provide U.S. economic assistance to Oman. The Joint Commission continued in existence until the mid-1990s. A Peace Corps program, which assisted Oman mainly in the fields of health and education, was initiated in 1973 and phased out in 1983. A team from the Federal Aviation Administration worked with Oman's Civil Aviation Department on a reimbursable basis but was phased out in 1992.

In March 2005, the U.S. and Oman launched negotiations on a free trade agreement that were successfully concluded in October 2005. The FTA was signed on January 19, 2006, and entered into force on January 1, 2009.

In 1974 and April 1983, Sultan Qaboos made state visits to the United States. Vice President George H.W. Bush visited Oman in 1984 and 1986, and President Bill Clinton visited briefly in March 2000. Vice President Richard Cheney visited Oman in 2002, 2005, and 2006.

Oman plays an important role in helping the United States realize its regional stability goals. Oman is strategically located on a key naval chokepoint through which passes 40% of the worlds exported oil shipments. The Government of Oman relies heavily on foreign assistance capacity-building that allows it to keep this critical sea-lane open to naval vessels and commercial traffic.

Oman also faces its own security challenges, which include combating piracy, weapons smuggling, narcotics trafficking, and monitoring and controlling Omans borders. The Omani security establishment has had to deploy assets to address increased insecurity along Omans land and sea border with Yemen, due to instability in Yemen and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula activities. This has created critical gaps in other areas.

U.S. assistance helps fund anti-piracy efforts and strengthens Omans capability to monitor and control its borders, and improves interoperability of the Omani military with U.S. forces. Under the Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Cooperation, signed in 2006 alongside the free trade agreement, the Department of States trade-related environmental cooperation programs focus on protecting the environment while promoting sustainable development.

In its willingness to enter into strategic cooperation with the United States and Britain, Oman has always stood somewhat apart from the other gulf states. In 1980 Muscat and Washington concluded a ten-year "facilities access" agreement granting the United States limited access to the air bases on Masirah and at Thamarit and As Sib and to the naval bases at Muscat, Salalah, and Al Khasab. The agreement was renewed for a further ten-year period in December 1990.

Although some Arab governments initially expressed their disapproval for granting the United States basing privileges, the agreement permitted use of these bases only on advance notice and for specified purposes. During the Iran-Iraq War, the United States flew maritime patrols from Omani airfields and based tanker aircraft to refuel United States carrier aircraft. The United States Army Corps of Engineers carried out considerable construction at the Masirah and As Sib air bases, making it possible to pre-position supplies, vehicles, and ammunition. Hardened aircraft shelters were built at As Sib and Thamarit for use of the ROAF.

Oman's close partnership with the USG, particularly through the Base Access Agreement (BAA), is contingent on maintaining an extremely low profile and continuing the Sultanate's foreign policy objective of carefully balancing public perception of its relationships with the U.S. and Iran. Oman's security strategy is one of keeping a low public profile in general.



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