SYRIA, IRAN ALSO ON AGENDA
Oman sits opposite Iran on the Strait of Hormuz, through which some 40 percent of the world’s sea-borne oil passes, and is a U.S.-allied Gulf Arab State while also maintaining good relations with the Shi’ite-ruled Islamic Republic.
Kerry’s visit is the first stop on a week-long trip that will take him to Amman for talks on bringing Syria’s warring parties to a peace conference and to Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Both issues were expected to come up in Kerry’s talks with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Arab world’s longest-serving ruler, on Tuesday, said the officials, who spoke to reporters as Kerry flew to Oman. Kerry headed straight from the airport to meet the sultan at his main residence, the vast Bait Al Baraka palace.
“It’s basically a chance to do a signals check with an important ally,” said a second senior State Department official. “Oman is not a key player on Syria but, as an important player in the Gulf, I think it will be good to hear the sultan’s views on the situation in the region writ large.”
More than 80,000 people are believed to have died in Syria’s civil war, which began with peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad more than two years ago as popular uprisings swept long-time authoritarian rulers from power in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
It has since become a civil war fought largely along sectarian lines between mainly Sunni opposition fighters who have Gulf Arab and some Western backing and government forces supported by Shi’ite Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Assad also benefits from diplomatic support and arms sales from Russia.
Kerry on Wednesday will meet in Jordan with senior officials from mostly Western and Arab states backing Syria’s opposition to discuss how to bring both sides to the negotiating table.
The United States and Russia announced two weeks ago that they would try to bring the two sides together - possibly in Geneva in June - for a peace conference that would choose a transitional government.