Cablegate: Omani Foreign Minister Reviews Peace Process, Iran
DE RUEHMS #0036/01 0141355
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 141355Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MUSCAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9149
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MUSCAT 000036
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL KPAL IR MU
SUBJECT: OMANI FOREIGN MINISTER REVIEWS PEACE PROCESS, IRAN
POLICY WITH CODEL PRICE
1. (SBU) In a January 8 meeting with a visiting U.S.
Congressional delegation, Oman's Minister Responsible for
Foreign Affairs praised close U.S.-Oman ties and the two
countries' "strategic" relationship. He applauded President
Bush's renewed push to help create a Palestinian state, but
feared that Israeli foot-dragging would result in the peace
process "starting from scratch" after the President left
office. Declaring that the time to end the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "now," he urged the U.S. to
use its leverage to encourage Israel to take bold steps for
peace. Palestinian President Abbas, he asserted, was ready
to sign and implement a final status agreement, which would
be the best guarantor of Israel's future security. The
Minister stated that Iran wished to keep the Strait of Hormuz
open out of its own national interests, and predicted that
Tehran would not back down on its nuclear policies, despite
the negative impact of international sanctions, as long as it
felt threatened by the West. He did not believe that Iran
would ever use a nuclear weapon even if it were to acquire
one, and characterized radical statements by Iranian leaders
as mere propaganda. End Summary.
"STRATEGIC" U.S.-OMAN RELATIONSHIP
2. (U) On January 8, the Ambassador and a U.S. Congressional
delegation (CODEL) led by Representative David Price (R-NC)
met with Omani Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusef
bin Alawi prior to dinner January 8 to discuss bilateral
ties, recent developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
and Iran. Other CODEL members (in addition to staff) in
attendance were: Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY),
Representative James Moran (D-VA), Representative Dennis
Rehberg (R-MT), Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton
(D-D.C.), and Representative Michael Simpson (R-ID).
3. (SBU) After welcoming the CODEL, Bin Alawi emphasized the
"deep, strong" relations between the U.S. and Oman. "This is
not a normal relationship," he explained, "but a strategic
one." While noting that these strong ties did not preclude
differences of opinion, Bin Alawi added that such
disagreements were "between friends" and reflected a healthy
candor in the bilateral dialogue.
THE TIME FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE IS "NOW"
4. (SBU) Turning to the Middle East peace process in
response to a question from Rep. Price, bin Alawi confirmed
Oman's strong support for efforts to achieve reconciliation
between Israelis and Palestinians, but cautioned that these
efforts were still at a "basic stage." He commended
President Bush for being "very courageous" in publicly
recognizing early-on the need for a two-state solution to the
conflict. Bin Alawi commented that many Israelis and
Palestinians appeared to have gradually accepted this
principle over the past years, which represented genuine
progress. Still, he warned, it would be "very difficult" to
push the peace process further forward before the close of
the Bush administration.
5. (SBU) Bin Alawi also praised the U.S. for seeking to
secure Arab support for its renewed push to end the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and mentioned that "some Arab
statesman" were favorably surprised by the President's
remarks at the Annapolis conference. Noting that Israeli PM
Olmert had said "some good things," bin Alawi nevertheless
claimed that "some Israeli leaders" were not prepared to
discuss final status issues necessary to create a Palestinian
state, and were instead insistent on building "even more
facts on the ground" (i.e., settlements). Furthermore, while
Israel often appeared to be supportive of making genuine
progress in achieving peace, this was usually more talk than
action. Bin Alawi said he feared that when a new U.S.
president assumed office next year, the peace process might
have to "start from scratch."
6. (SBU) The opportunity to create a Palestinian state, bin
Alawi stressed, was now. The Minister said it was impossible
to predict how a new generation of Arabs unaccustomed to
peace would react to a continuation of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, although he hoped they would
reject violence. What was needed above anything else at
present, he continued, was an Israeli leader who would
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"follow the path of (former Prime Minister) Begin" by taking
a brave stand and "making peace." Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas was ready to sign a peace deal, bin
Alawi asserted, and was also prepared to fulfill any
resulting Palestinian commitments needed to reach such an
agreement. He argued that Abbas had complied with
Palestinian roadmap obligations despite the "unhelpful"
actions of Israeli Defense Forces, and further noted that it
was "impossible" for all Palestinians to agree to peace
terms, just like some Israeli factions refused to support a
peace settlement. Emphasizing once again that "time is
short," bin Alawi said he hoped President Bush would use U.S.
"leverage," even in light of American "political
constraints," to help convince Israel to take the steps
needed to bring an end to the conflict.
ISRAELI SECURITY = PALESTINIAN STATE
7. (SBU) Asked how Iran fit into the peace process, bin
Alawi prefaced his remarks by stating that the Iranian regime
was "not naive, but sophisticated." He said that Tehran
believed that negotiations between Israel and the
Palestinians were not producing results and did not want "to
be associated with failure." Bin Alawi added, however, that
if Israel showed a "serious commitment" to withdraw from
occupied Palestinian territory, Iran could drop its
opposition to peace efforts.
8. (SBU) Regarding Israel's security needs, the Minister
stated that no Arab government -- as opposed to
"non-government" organizations -- posed any threat to Israel.
Given instability and terrorist plots in Lebanon, Saudi
Arabia and elsewhere, bin Alawi proffered that the "best
thing" that Israel could do to strengthen its security would
be to "unite" with other nations of the region to help create
a successful Palestinian state and to fight terrorism. He
underscored that Israel's enemies were also the enemies of
Israel's Arab neighbors and that combating them could best be
done together. Bin Alawi acknowledged that Israel did have
to live with a "limited threat," including rocket attacks
from Gaza (which he claimed were not a "major" concern in the
overall scope of things), but asserted that there was no such
thing as a "zero threat" environment. He added that Israel's
present course of action would not improve its security.
IRAN WANTS STRAIT TO REMAIN OPEN
9. (SBU) Responding to a question on security in the Strait
of Hormuz, bin Alawi stated that Iran, in keeping with its
"fairly cautious" nature, did not want to cause any
"flare-up" that could trigger a conflict in this vital
waterway. The reported January 6 incident between U.S. navy
vessels and Iranian boats in the strait was likely just
"political propaganda" and perhaps designed to make a
statement prior to President's Bush visit to the Gulf region.
Bin Alawi contended that the Iranian armed forces generally
"behave in a fair and proper way," although he could not say
the same thing about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps
10. (SBU) The Minister explained it was in Iran's direct
national interest for the Strait of Hormuz to remain open, in
part to keep its own oil exports flowing, and that the
Iranians did not yet appear to be trying to develop alternate
port facilities in the Gulf of Oman outside the strait. In
any event, bin Alawi pointed out, closing the strait is
physically very hard to do -- even sinking a tanker in the
deep water would not shut down the shipping lanes. The
Minister also did not believe that Iran had any intention of
infringing on Omani territorial waters. "War, of course,
could change all this," added bin Alawi.
PARTNERS, NOT "CLIENTS"
11. (SBU) Bin Alawi advised the CODEL that the next U.S.
president should seek to work in genuine partnership with
regional friends such as Oman, rather than view them as
"clients." It was "not acceptable," he stressed, for the
U.S. to announce a policy in Washington and then expect Oman
and other nations to follow it. Such a heavy-handed approach
was "insulting" and made the younger generation, in
particular, "furious." Bin Alawi approvingly noted that the
current U.S. administration's foreign policies had "evolved"
towards more engagement with Arab countries and he hoped this
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trend would continue. The Minister speculated that "some" in
the U.S. might resist a "true partnership" with moderate Arab
states, but asserted that this was sorely needed and would
strengthen the U.S. position in the region. Asked whether
he was suggesting a NATO-type of partnership between the U.S.
and certain Arab countries, the Minister said that such an
alliance was not necessary as the foundation elements for a
stronger Arab-American partnership, e.g., strong bilateral
security agreements, trade agreements, formal and informal
dialogue, etc., were already in place.
IRAN WON'T BACK DOWN UNDER PRESSURE
12. (SBU) "Iran will remain Iran," bin Alawi stated, and
would never accept being treated as a client state or with
disrespect. He said that Iran was pursuing nuclear
technology because it felt that it was being "ignored" by the
West and that the U.S. viewed it as an "enemy."
International sanctions only increased Tehran's perception
that it was "under threat." Referring to the recent U.S.
National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), bin Alawi suggested
that Iran may have suspended its alleged nuclear weapons
program in 2003 because the U.S. invasion of Iraq had ended
Tehran's conflict with Baghdad and, accordingly, lessened the
Iranians' sense of being threatened.
13. (SBU) Underlying policy-making in Tehran was a belief by
many Iranians that the West still does not truly recognize
the legitimacy of the 1979 revolution and wants to topple the
current regime, the Minister related. He emphasized that
Iran would "stand fast" on its policies and would not back
down under pressure, even though it was being hurt by
international sanctions (which it was seeking to circumvent).
The Iranian people, including the younger generation, "will
follow their leaders wherever they go."
14. (SBU) Asked if Iran would ever use a nuclear weapon, bin
Alawi replied that if Tehran were to acquire such a weapon,
it would be as a deterrent only. He stated he believed that
Iran had decided not to pursue "full scale nuclear
development," but was interested in acquiring nuclear
"know-how" as long as it felt threatened by the West. Bin
Alawi continued that Iran was a big country and did not need
nuclear weapons to threaten its neighbors if it wanted to.
Radical statements by Iranian President Ahmadinejad and other
Iranian leaders were for show and/or propaganda purposes
only, the Minister asserted.
15. (SBU) In concluding the meeting, Representative Price
thanked the Minister for sharing his views and expressed
appreciation for Oman's cooperation with the U.S. Bin Alawi
again stressed the importance of U.S.-Oman ties and welcomed
future consultations with members of the U.S. Congress.
16. (U) CODEL Price did not have the opportunity to clear