Oman's gas demands await Iran nuclear deal
By Daniel Fineren, ReutersDUBAI--If Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's dream of reaching a deal with world powers on Tehran's nuclear program in six months comes true, Oman, an important intermediary in the dispute, could be a big winner.
October 1, 2013, 12:09 am TWN
There have been too many false dawns in Iran's decade-old standoff with the West over Tehran's nuclear program to bank on Rouhani's call in New York last week for a deal within 3-6 months.
But in the weeks leading up to Rouhani's first foreign trip since he became president in August, Omani officials have been visiting Tehran in a bid to buy Iranian gas in the hope that some day sanctions on Iran will be lifted and Oman can finally get the supplies it desperately needs over the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran sits on the world's largest reserves of gas and Oman has been trying to buy some of it since 2005 to feed energy intensive industries and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants planned before it cut its own reserves estimate.
Price disagreements, Western sanctions that have stunted Iranian energy projects and U.S. pressure on Oman to find other suppliers have prevented any real progress with the pipeline project since then.
But Oman is ahead in a queue like that which formed at Myanmar's door as sanctions against the Southeast Asian state were eased.
Muscat has moved quickly to cement ties since the election of moderate Iranian President Hasan Rouhani improved long-term trade prospects, with Oman's Sultan Qaboos Bin Said the first head of state to meet Rouhani after his inauguration in early August.
On that trip, the two countries' energy ministers signed a gas supply agreement that Iran's energy minister valued at US$60 billion over 25 years, which would be by far the biggest trade deal between the two neighbors, if any gas ever flows between them.
“The new government of Iran has a different approach. We are very optimistic that all the political issues between Iran and the West, particularly, will be resolved,” Oman energy minister Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhy told Reuters in early September after signing the gas deal in late August.
“This is our wish in Oman and we're working towards it ... The feeling in Oman is that things are changing.”
Sunni Gulf Arab leaders have tense relations with Shiite Tehran, but Sultan Qaboos has been on relatively good terms during his 43-year reign. He met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and top Iranian military officials on his latest trip, and his defense minister signed a military cooperation deal in Tehran in mid-September, Oman's state news agency reported.
Oman is a close U.S. ally and has acted as a go-between for Tehran and Washington in the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, according to U.S. embassy cables published by Wikileaks dating back to 2006. Tehran dismisses Western suspicions it plans a bomb, saying its nuclear aims are purely peaceful.