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US rewards Oman for role in Iran deal

|By Arabian Post Staff| In recognition of Oman’s efforts to broker a deal with Iran on the vexed nuclear issue, the United States toned down its approach towards a human rights report which carried adverse remarks about the Sultanate, a Washington-datelined report indicated.

In a highly unusual intervention, the State Department’s hierarchy overruled its own staff’s assessments of Oman’s human rights performance and ranked the sultanate at a higher level, Reuters reported quoting US officials. The move followed protests by Oman.

In June, when the human rights report is usually published, the advisers to Kerry took the unusual step of putting the entire 382-page document on hold, two sources with knowledge of the process told Reuters.

“Oman was the only hold-up,” said a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In response to questions, a State Department official declined to directly address Reuters’ findings on the Oman TIP process, saying that the department sought to make the report “as accurate and objective as possible” for all countries.

In its protests over the possible downgrade, Oman stressed its broader strategic importance to the United States, according to U.S. officials.

The Reuters report quoted a Western diplomatic source as saying Kerry is “protecting Oman when it comes to this issue.” “John Kerry has a good personal relationship with (Oman Foreign Minister) Yusuf bin Alawi and a good feeling towards Oman. So he doesn’t want to see Oman downgraded,” he was quoted as saying.

Oman, a trusted U.S. ally, prides itself as a stable presence and mediator in a region beset by conflict. The country of 4 million people has a “good neighbour” policy with Iran and close relations with the West.

Oman orchestrated secret U.S.-Iran contacts that began in Muscat in 2012, leading to the first formal talks between the United States and Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and helping to pave the way for July’s nuclear deal, a legacy-defining foreign-policy achievement for President Barack Obama.

Oman has also won U.S. favor in other ways, including helping to secure the release in 2011 of three American hikers held by Iran and taking in prisoners from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In recent months, Muscat has also helped facilitate the release of American hostages held in Yemen and has assisted in Syria diplomacy, the Reuters report pointed out.