Background Briefing: Senior State Department Officials En Route to Muscat, Oman
MODERATOR: Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, we are on route to Oman and we have with us Senior State Department Official, better known as [Senior State Department Official], to talk about our upcoming stop in Oman.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There are three main themes to the –
QUESTION: You did three main themes for the last stop.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, that’s –
QUESTION: Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Six main things.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. There are three main themes though. The first is – first is clearly to thank the Sultan, to thank Oman, for their help in securing the release of the hikers from Oman – from Iran. As you know, Oman helped both with Sarah Shourd a year ago, as well as with Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer just a few weeks ago. So part of it is simply to express in person our appreciation, following up on the President’s phone call to the sultan after the hikers were released.
The second theme --
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about what specifically –
MODERATOR: Let him finish his brief, please.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The second theme is to follow up on the conversation that she had with the sultan back in January about social and economic issues, about development and education. Because as you know, Oman last year got the UNDP citation for the most – for the country that had gone through the most development over the past 40 years. There are a lot of good famous anecdotes about how when the sultan took power in 1970 there was only three miles of paved roads; now the country is well developed. Women weren’t educated in 1970; now there are more women at university than men.
So part of this is a follow-up to her conversation about these issues with the sultan from back in January when she visited, but it’s taking on increasing importance because, of course, Oman itself had a series of social protests as part of the phenomenon of the Arab Spring. And these were social protests about job opportunities, economic opportunities, and the sultan has addressed these in a number of ways, including commitment for more job creation, a promise to provide some legislative authority to the advisory shura council, the council that was just elected on October 15th for it’s more recent term. It’s an 84-member advisory council that the sultan, as part of the Arab Spring reforms, said will now obtain some legislative powers. So that’s sort of the second theme, is addressing social and economic concerns through job development and education providing opportunities.
The third thing are more the regional issues. Oman is one of six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. And the Secretary and Secretary Panetta, as you may remember, met with the GCC foreign ministers in New York back in September on the margins of General Assembly, where they talked about how we could use our six positive bilateral relationships that we have with each of the six GCC countries and build a more multilateral framework to enhance those bilateral relationships in order to have a positive commitment going forward regarding Gulf security issues.
On the regional front, she’ll also be interested in the sultan’s views on Yemen. The sultan is a longtime observer of his next-door neighbor. She will want to also share our concerns about Iran’s behavior, specifically, of course, the assassination plot against Saudi Ambassador Al-Jubeir. And I’m sure, given the fact that Oman is also a member of the Arab League, she will want to talk about Syria and other issues.
So three themes: thanks for the hikers; discussion of social and economic reforms in Oman to address challenges there; and third, regional issues primarily focused on the Gulf but not exclusively.
MODERATOR: Let’s just take three now, because we’re blocking the whole corridor here.
QUESTION: Is she looking for – Oman has a very good relationship with Iran, and so is she looking for the Omanis, as they did with the hikers, but to use more influence on Iran to try and change its behavior?
MODERATOR: The question: Is she asking Oman to help with Iraq?
MODERATOR: Iran. I’m sorry.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We are sending out worldwide messages now and we are – that are tailored for each country, asking them to use their – if they have a relationship with Iran, to use their relationship with Iran in a way to really focus the Iranians on the risks that they face, based on the types of behavior they are producing. So we would expect that the Omanis would use their relationship with Iran, as they have in the past, to help the Iranians understand the implications of what they’re doing.
MODERATOR: Two more.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We were in touch with a number of countries to try to help us on the hikers. And you need to talk to the Omanis themselves about their specific role.
MODERATOR: Anything else? Good. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you.