Leaked Cables on Iran: Oman Wary of Iranian Expansionism
(August 7, 2008)
Thursday, 07 August 2008, 07:43
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 MUSCAT 000565
EO 12958 DECL: 08/07/2018
TAGS PREL, PARM, IR, MU
SUBJECT: OMAN REMAINS WARY OF IRANIAN EXPANSIONISM
Classified By: Ambassador Gary A. Grappo per 1.4 (B and D).
1. (S/NF) Minister of the Royal Office and head of the Office of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Ali bin Majid al-Ma'amari, reviewed Oman's view on Iran from a security perspective, highlighting Omani awareness of Iran's deceptive tactics and expansionist ideological desires in the region. During an introductory meeting with NAVCENT commander VADM William Gortney, accompanied by the Ambassador, General Ali addressed the Iranian nuclear file, security in the Strait of Hormuz, and Iranian interference in the region. Ali Majid's suspicious view of Iran stands in stark contrast to conciliatory if not obsequious public comments of Omani Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin 'Alawi regarding Iran and its role in the region. End summary.
Won't Oppose Further Sanctions on Iran
2. (S/NF) Characterizing Oman's preference for "frankness and clarity," General Ali began his comments on Iran by noting the reality of Iran as a nearby neighbor, which influenced Oman's relations with Iran. Toward the end of the discussion, he compared Oman's normal relations with Iran to the relations of other GCC members with Iran. Throughout the meeting, he frequently touched on the theme of how different Oman was from other GCC member states, whose real intentions and positions often eluded Omani comprehension.
3. (S/NF) The Iranian nuclear issue stood at the forefront of the General's mind. He described the nuclear file as an international issue, noting that resolution of this issue should be dealt with through international bodies such as the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Oman would respect decisions of these groups and play its role in the international community. Oman would not oppose imposition of further measures against Iran by the international bodies; however, Oman did not want to play an active role in advocating for such measures itself.
Iranian Intentions Clear: Stall for Time
4. (S/NF) Ali Majid stated that Oman was aware of Iranian stall tactics in the talks over the nuclear issue. Instead of responding by the August 5 deadline, the Iranian side offered a new initiative for talks, confirming reports from the U.S. and others that Iran indeed is trying merely to buy time. Letting the 5 August deadline pass in responding positively to the P5 1 proposal made the Iranian intention to stall "very clear to Oman." The Ambassador noted that the U.S. has been working with allies around the world, and especially within the EU, to further restrict Iranian economic activity in an effort to influence Iran's position on the nuclear file. General Ali agreed that sanctions to date were having an impact on the Iranian economy, despite Iran's public denials. Moreover, he said, Iran believed the U.S. would never attack Iran, a belief that encouraged Iran to persist in its stall tactics. Nevertheless, he advocated a non-military solution as the best option for the U.S., and suggested that over the long term, establishment of U.S. relations at some level with the Iranian government might enable the U.S. to better influence the Iranian government and people.
Empty Threats Against the Strait
5. (S/NF) Responding to the Ambassador's question about recent Iranian statements threatening the Strait of Hormuz, Ali Majid dismissed the threats as "empty words" and perhaps a feeble attempt to up its bargaining leverage vis a vis the P5 1. VADM Gortney echoed the Ambassador's comments that such rhetoric negatively impacted the world's view of Iran and ultimately would undermine Iran's standing in the international community. On this same issue, the General expressed his pleasure with the White House press statement on August 5 responding to the IRGC commander's comments regarding closure of the Strait, agreeing that Iranian closure of the strait would be suicide (i.e., more harmful to Iran's own economic interests). He also commended the U.S. for not escalating the rhetoric but instead putting Iran's comments into proper perspective.
Iraq and Iranian Expansionism
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6. (S/NF) Prior to delving into the nuclear issues, Ali Majid acknowledged that Iranian interference in Iraq prevented achievement of a stable security environment there. He allowed that, at a minimum, Iran indirectly supported Shi'a militia in Iraq. Elaborating on his theme of "Iranian expansionist" ideology, he noted that the Iranian national radio broadcast commenced with the prelude "the voice of the Islamic Republic from Tehran." Focusing on "from Tehran," he astutely raised Omani concerns that such language revealed Iran's true intentions: a "greater Islamic Republic" with Tehran at its center. He further speculated that Iran wanted to give the impression that the Islamic Republic might already encompass "Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and even the Gulf."
7. (S/NF) Ali Majid linked the nuclear issue and the interference in Iraq by speculating that a resolution might entice Iran into ceasing its interference in Iraq. He offered a rhetorical question on whether Iran was serious about challenging the major powers or is it posturing in the media for domestic consumption. He conceded that he truly did not know the answer, but that with Iran's continued attitude on the nuclear issue, the security situation in Iraq would remain unresolved. Citing Oman's preference for a non-military solution, he nevertheless acknowledged that a nuclear-armed Iran as opposed to war with Iran posed "an extremely difficult dilemma for all of us."
Playing to Their Domestic Audience
8. (S/NF) Acknowledging Iran's revolutionary zeal, the General attempted to put Iranian public statements in perspective when he described as exaggerations those comments by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmed-I Nejad or other Iranian figures, particularly regarding military capabilities. "Countries that believe they have some specific military weapons advantages usually keep them secret," he averred. He asserted that in the end, all power resided with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
9. (S/NF) Ali Majid portrayed Shi'a ideology as another factor complicating possible military conflict with Iran. Iranian leaders would not balk at sacrificing a quarter of their 60 million citizens in a military conflict. The Shi'a tradition of martyrdom spanned 14 centuries. The annual self-flagellation of Shi'a over 1,400 years served as an example of this martyr psychology. Beyond its Shi'a ideology, pride in its Persian national identity compelled Iran to demand international recognition and respect.
10. (S/NF) Returning back to comments about GCC countries, General Ali singled out Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar as three Gulf countries that probably would want the U.S. to strike Iran. However, he urged the U.S. to determine whether such voices were speaking on the basis of logic or emotion. He likened private entreaties of these countries to the U.S. for military action on Iran to the Iraqi opposition in exile providing the U.S. false information on Iraq that led to the invasion of Iraq. At the beginning of the meeting, Ali Majid had noted that, in contrast to Oman, other GCC members did not always speak with candor or clarity, leaving Oman to question the real motivations or intentions of its GCC brethren.
11. (S/NF) Punctuating his comments about Iran's irrationality, Ali Majid pointed to Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi's recent comment that "Iran is crazy" not to pay attention to the history of Yugoslavia and Iraq, whose ignoring of U.S. pressure resulted in their collapse. Interestingly, he referred to Qadhafi's transformation from pariah to emerging member of the international community by noting that Qadhafi had once been "our enemy."
Oman in a "Strategic Relationship" with the U.S.
12. (S) Shifting from Iran, Ali Majid underscored Oman's "strategic relationship" with the U.S. and highlighted Oman's cooperation with the U.S. on counterterrorism issues. He described Oman's zero tolerance for extremism and refusal to negotiate with terrorists as a policy established at least since 1970 (the year of the Sultan's assumed power). Oman has been and continues to prepare itself to confront terrorism, he said, as it is not exempt from the plotting of terrorists. While Oman is "encircled by problems" -- specifically mentioning Yemen, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan --
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Oman remains vigilant in preventing such problems from reaching the Sultanate. On the topic of Oman's partnership with the U.S., he harkened back to when the Soviets had sought a warm water port during the time of their invasion of Afghanistan and were rebuffed by Muscat as an example of how "Oman has stood at the side of the U.S." He also highlighted the irony that now the world faced "not the Soviets but the Taliban." He quickly followed this by noting that the U.S. would be wise to support talks with moderate members of the Taliban, which Oman encouraged as a way toward achieving security in Afghanistan.
13. (S/NF) Participants in the meeting included VADM Gortney, the Ambassador, the admiral's executive officer, Embassy Muscat's OMC Chief, and GRPO (notetaker). Sayyid Munthir bin Majid al-Sa'id, head of the Royal Office Liaison and Coordination Service participated as notetaker and translator for General Ali.
14. (S/NF) In light of recent, more conciliatory statements by Minister Responsible for foreign Affairs Yusuf bin 'Alawi, Ali Majid's blunt assessment of Iranian intentions comes as refreshing reassurance of the official Omani position on Iran. While careful to flag Oman's longstanding preference for a non-military solution to the Iran question and, less directly, Oman's inability to actively confront Iranian obstinacy, the Sultanate nevertheless maintains a clear-eyed view of Iran, its increasingly threatening behavior and the potential repercussions for the region. His comments regarding attitudes and perceptions of fellow GCC members were startling as they would appear to confirm oft stated views of GCC counterparts of Oman as the sometimes "odd man out" in the GCC. Ali Majid's comments suggest that while not entirely comfortable with this, the Omanis acknowledge it. Ali Majid, as the Sultan's top security official and advisor, is known for taking a more hard-line view of matters relating to regional security. However, given his closeness to the Sultan and his status as a member of the inner-most circle of the Sultan's confidants, such views to a senior U.S. officer can be assumed to accord with those of Qaboos. GRAPPO