AFP: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Oman on Friday for talks with Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of this key Gulf state which faces Iran across the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
MUSCAT (AFP) US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Oman on Friday for talks with Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of this key Gulf state which faces Iran across the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
“They provide a lot of support for the United States. The sultan is a good friend,” Gates told reporters travelling with him. “I just think it’s important to touch base.”
One of the few states in the greater Middle East that Gates has not visited since becoming defence secretary in December 2006, Oman has in the past given the United States access to its ports and airfields in times of crisis.
A senior US defence official said there were no concrete military-to-military issues before them.
Gates, he said, merely wanted to get the sultan’s views on developments in the region, including Iran, and had missed an earlier opportunity to visit in December.
“They are a peninsular country that looks across the Strait of Hormuz. You can’t get into the Gulf without going past Omani territory,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Obviously the questions and the challenges we have with Iran will come up. We always enjoy hearing Sultan Qaboos’s relationships with Iran,” he said, adding that he was well regarded as a strategic thinker.
“We would expect he would offer his views on Iran, he would offer his views on Iraq, both the long-term and the recent, and he also has some views about the greater Middle East, both the Palestinian issues and Lebanon issue,” the official said.
US forces and military supplies transited through Oman before and during both the 1991 Gulf War and the US-led offensive that toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.
But the defence official said there is currently little US military presence in Oman, although some US military supplies are stored here and navy P-3 surveillance planes make stops at Omani air bases.
“These basing arrangements we have here are temporary, intermittent, always with the permission of the government. It’s part of a large set of basing arrangements we have throughout the region,” he said.