Tensions with Iran and the escalating terror threat in Yemen will be key topics of discussion when U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates meets on Sunday with leaders in Oman here on the edge of the Arabian Sea.
An ally of both the United States and Iran, Oman has served as an intermediary in negotiations with Tehran, including successful mediation in October that led to the release of an American woman held in an Iranian prison for more than a year.
Mr Gates’ visit comes against the backdrop of the recent WikiLeaks release of a quarter million sensitive and classified diplomatic memos -- or cables are in diplomatic parlance. Many underscore the Arab world’s anxiety about Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
The cables detailed pleas from Arab leaders for action against Tehran, including a warning from Saudi King Abdullah that someone must “cut off the head of the snake.”
Equally worrisome is Oman’s neighbor to the west -- Yemen, where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been gaining strength and plotting attacks against the U.S. and other Western interests. Officials have been trying to rally a more regional effort to help poverty-stricken Yemen battle extremists within its borders while bolstering its economic and political stability.
Senior defence officials travelling with Mr Gates said the secretary’s trip is largely a courtesy call and a stopping-off point for a planned visit to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which is in the Arabian Sea between Oman and Pakistan. But it gives him the chance to meet with Sultan Qaboos.
The WikiLeaks document release has touched off a global uproar, with its public airing of diplomatic cables laying out blunt and critical assessments of world leaders and nations.
Mr Gates’ meetings may well touch on the often embarrassing revelations and concerns about America’s inability to keep such sensitive reports private.
Sarah Shourd of California and two male companions were walking near the Iran-Iraq border in July 2009 when they were detained by Iranian authorities and accused of illegally crossing into Iran and spying. Negotiations are continuing to gain the release of the other two, including Shourd’s fiance.