|09MUSCAT823||2009-08-03 09:55:00||SECRET||Embassy Muscat|
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 000823
1.(S) Summary: After days of conflicting speculation, the Sultan's
previously announced, then deferred, visit to Iran is now under
way. Several scenarios, each with a fact or two attached, had
circulated, but Tehran is the primary destination with the
possibility of additional travel. The Sultan's visit, in tandem
with a large, high-level, and varied entourage, will be spun
locally to enhance Oman's role as a neutral regional player seeking
stability. End summary.
2.2.(S) The Sultan's visit to Iran was originally scheduled to take
place June 28-30 (Ref A), soon after the Islamic Republic's
elections. The trip would in any case have been a challenge, not
least because it would be the Sultan's first since a state visit to
his ally the Shah in 1974, but even more because of the perceived
imperative of protecting the monarchy from any hint of controversy.
Post-election events in Tehran have significantly compounded this
conundrum, leaving the court the unenviable choice of offending the
Iranians by cancelling outright or (possibly worse given the
Sultan's carefully maintained low international profile) of making
news by being one of the first heads of state to visit a
post-election Tehran in turmoil.
3.3.(S) To date, the announced visit has officially only been
postponed (Ref B) - although the postponement has been made public
only via leaks by "official sources" to Gulf and Iranian media and
not mentioned locally. A reliable Omani government official told
Charge' on August 2 that the Sultan would "travel" later the same
day, and a senior officer of the Royal Yacht Squadron confirmed
that the Sultan's primary destination is Iran. Al-Sharq al-Awsat
reported on August 3 that Qaboos would begin an official three-day
visit to Iran on Tuesday.
4.4.(S) In any case, the Sultan's travels are now under way. The
court, always discreet about the monarch's whereabouts, may wait
several days before formally announcing his departure, and even
then may give few details about his plans. Nonetheless, the signs
are clear: The royal yacht left its usual berth late Thursday,
July 30; a contact associated with the royal flight has said he
will be "traveling with the boss"; in a possibly related support
operation, observers reported vehicles of the Royal Court crossing
into the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, August 1.
5.5.(S) A likely scenario could see the Sultan travel to the UAE
and from there depart via the royal yacht to the Iranian port of
Bandar Abbas, followed by inland travel on the royal flight. If he
departed as reported to us on the evening of Monday, August 2, and
travels by boat, he could easily be in Bandar Abbas as early as
Tuesday morning, August 4.
6.6.(S) In June, the court issued a statement that the Sultan's
three-day visit would combine an official call on Ahmadinejad in
Tehran with a private tour (Ref C); other senior officials,
including the Supreme Leader, will likely also figure on the
schedule. Contacts indicate that the private tour will feature a
stop in the historical cultural center of Isfahan, in line with the
Sultan's strong interest in both history and the visual arts.
7.7.(C) Previously announced as accompanying the Sultan was a very
large retinue of senior officials including his chief of staff,
national security advisor, the Minister Responsible for Foreign
Affairs (who visited Iran in July, presumably in connection with
this visit), the Minister of National Economy, the Advisor for
Cultural Affairs (long the court's principal connection to Tehran,
but also in expectation of possible Iranian cultural assistance),
The Minister of Health (with local chatter focusing on the possible
role Iranian professionals might play in addressing Oman's medical
deficiencies), the Minister of Commerce and Industry, The Chief
Inspector of Police and Customs (to sign any so-called "security"
agreement), and the Minister of Oil and Gas. Surrounding the
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Sultan with an entourage of this magnitude has the effect of
lessening the impact of his personal presence and of focusing the
outcomes of the visit on the various ministries involved rather
than Qaboos personally.
8.8.(S) COMMENT: Whatever is stated publicly about this visit, it
will provide an opportunity for the Sultan to reinforce privately
and directly with the Iranian leadership Oman's highest
foreign-affairs priority, regional stability, giving him a chance
to personally restate the message laid out by his Advisor for
Cultural Affairs in his extremely rare mid-July (Ref D) interview
that Iran "should clearly seize the approaches of the new U.S.
Administration and respond positively to these policies." At the
same time, Oman has also made clear that it does not desire or seek
an intermediary role.
9.9.(S) COMMENT continued: Other outcomes of the visit address
smuggling, energy, and cultural issues. What has been reported in
the Iranian and international press as a "Security Cooperation
Agreement" between Oman and Iran is in reality meant to help Oman
to protect its borders by combating coastal smuggling and illegal
immigration. This agreement, along with assistance on
cultural/heritage issues and progress in getting much-needed
natural gas (essential if the Sultanate's ambitious
industrialization and diversification plans are to continue on
schedule) from the Iranians, seem to be the primary public results
sought by Oman in proceeding with what must be to Qaboos personally
(given both his longtime friendship with the exiled Pahlavis and
his personal abhorrence of publicity) a difficult visit.
1010.(S) COMMENT continued: Whatever the Sultan's travel plans, it
is unlikely he will attend any of the festivities related to
Ahmedinijad's inauguration. Absent the presence of other heads of
state or senior Arab or European royalty, the reticent Qaboos would
be loathe to feature in Iranian publicity as a high-profile
presence at such events. Arriving after the inauguration would
also provide the Sultan a fig leaf of cover that the post-election
period of turmoil is over. More likely is the hope that by
arriving in the shadow of the inauguration, he will be able to
carry off a visit that, whatever hay Tehran may make of it, can be
noted, but minimized, for local consumption in the context of
maintaining friendly relations with all of Oman's neighbors and
enhancing regional stability. END COMMENT.