Strategically located on the opposite side of the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, the Sultanate of Oman said the risk of military conflict between Tehran and the West was rising but there was still plenty of opportunity to negotiate peace.
Iran has repeatedly denied charges by Western nations it is developing the capability to build nuclear weapons, but the US and European Union have recently imposed tougher sanctions in an effort to convince Tehran to curb its nuclear program.
“It is in the interest of both sides to come to the middle road,” Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the Sultanate’s Minister responsible for Foreign Affairs, said in Muscat.
“We can see that the threat of an unfortunate flash of military confrontation is more possible rather than it is remote.”
On several occasions, Oman has acted as an intermediary between Iran and the West.
Last year, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos facilitated the release of 2 US hikers held by Tehran for spying, and 3 French aid workers held hostage by Yemeni tribesmen were freed in November after Oman negotiated their release.
Speculation has grown in recent months that Israel, with or without US support, may launch some form of pre-emptive military strike against Iranian nuclear installations, which the Jewish state sees as a threat to its existence.
Asked about the risk of a Western military strike on Iran, Abdullah said: “Still there is time, but not long, to seize opportunities where the six (powers) and Iran can meet at a middle road to find a solution to this conflict.”
He said there was also a risk Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear program could get out of hand, and called for more focus on establishing facts on the ground.
In office since 1982, Abdullah said Oman was doing its best to secure the Strait of Hormuz, through which an average of 14 crude oil tankers pass each day. The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, regularly patrols Gulf waters and frequently passes through the strait.
“We are doing our best to keep this waterway open for the benefit of international trade and flow of energy to the rest of the world,” Abdullah said.
“But there is no guarantee, once the situation is broken, we can offer alternatives,” he noted.
Abdullah said Oman would continue to offer its services as a regional broker.
Source: Reuters; Photo: AP