“We (the US and Oman) have a very engaged cooperation on counter-terror issues,” Beth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East at the US State Department, said in response to a question from Muscat Daily. “Oman is an engaged partner on the issue of safety, security and stability in the region. We also cooperate in anti-piracy operations, which is an important issue in the region as well as for the US.”
Stressing that Oman lies in a very strategic region, Jones said that the sultanate's role is important 'whether it is on keeping the Straits of Hormuz open for shipping or whether it is on anti-terrorist cooperation to ensure that Al Qaeda is not able to do terrible things against the US, against Oman, against any other countries in the Gulf and elsewhere'.
Jones, who arrived in Muscat on Friday night, will hold wide-ranging talks with Omani officials on Sunday. While the talks will cover Oman-US bilateral relations, the American diplomat revealed that she will also discuss regional issues.
“Oman and US have completed 40 years of diplomatic relations,” she said. “While we will certainly discuss our areas of cooperation including bilateral trade relations, the meetings with my Omani colleagues will also provide a good opportunity to discuss regional issues [such as the situations in] Syria, Egypt, Iran and even Iraq.”
The American diplomat added that the US 'stays in very close touch with Oman about Iran both in terms of the engagement that we have with Iran through the P5+1 (permanent members of the UN Security Council US, Russia, UK, France and China plus Germany) and the pressure that we maintain on Iran through sanctions'.
“Because Oman has a good relationship with Iran, it is important for the US to stay in touch with Oman to understand all this better. We don’t obviously have a good relationship with Iran but we are very interested in working on engagement with Iran on the nuclear issue. It is in the interest of the entire world for Iran not to have a nuclear weapons programme.”
Referring to trade and investments as crucial factors in contributing to the prosperity and stability of a nation, Jones lauded the increasing bilateral ties in these sectors. “We are fortunate to have negotiated a free trade agreement with Oman that came into effect in 2009. This has permitted American firms to establish themselves here without a lot of red tape and restrictions, resulting in a substantial increase in bilateral trade and investments.”
Jones also highlighted education as another sector where bilateral ties have seen a big leap. “We have witnessed a tremendous increase in the education exchange programme. Many American Fulbright scholars are visiting Oman and at the same time more and more Omani students are coming to the US. It’s a very positive sign,” she said, adding, “Students visas have gone up by 70 per cent this year.”