Britain’s relations with Oman go back centuries. Indeed the first UK agreement with Oman was signed in 1646. The legendary British Admiral Horatio Nelson is said to have visited Muscat when he was a young midshipman in the eighteenth century.
The name of his ship can still be seen on the rocks sheltering Muscat harbour, alongside those of many other British vessels that have anchored in the bay over several hundred years. Today Britain enjoys a close relationship with Oman, one that we hope will go from strength to strength in the decades to come.
Her Majesty the Queen is making a State Visit to Oman this week, in the 40th year of the Sultan’s reign. It is an opportunity to celebrate our thriving relationship, which has been transformed since her Majesty’s last visited in 1979 during her Royal Gulf Tour, and to look forward to even stronger ties in the future.
The new British government recognises that the Middle East is a region of great opportunity and promise, despite facing some considerable challenges that we are working to address with our partners in the region. This positive vision of the region explains why we have set out to elevate our links with Oman and our other important partners in the Gulf, looking for new opportunities for cooperation that will benefit all our peoples, considering ways to develop our strategic relationship and to intensify our co-operation in trade, education, energy security, defence and foreign policy.
Our countries share a common interest in peace and prosperity the Middle East. In Britain we value our engagement with Oman on the best way to address regional issues, whether it is instability in Yemen, aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, conflict in Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan or the growing risk of nuclear proliferation in the region.
Britain shares the concern of the rest of the international community and the IAEA about Iran’s nuclear programme. If Iran acquired military nuclear technology, it could lead to unravelling of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and a cascade of nuclear weapons proliferation in the region and beyond. Britain is at the forefront of those seeking a negotiated diplomatic solution and a swift return to meaningful talks and action by Iran to assure the world that the aims of its programme are exclusively peaceful. We appreciate Oman’s insights into Iran and perspective on the current situation, as one of the country’s neighbours.
Yemen’s continued instability is another source of concern. We have a shared interest in tackling the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and addressing the root causes of Yemen’s problems. The UK is committed to a united Yemen with a stable and prosperous future and we play a leading role in the Friends of Yemen process. Oman, as one of only two countries sharing a land border with Yemen, was a key participant in the recent meeting in New York. It is also a source of considerable support and assistance to Yemen, especially in Mahra and the Hadramaut.
Britain also attaches great importance to achieving a durable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which affects not only Israelis and Palestinians, but also the security and prosperity of the wider region. With each day the window for a peace settlement is closing. I made clear during my recent visit to the region that the UK understands the depth of Israeli security concerns. But the strength of our friendship means we must say that this means meeting Road Map obligations by renewing the settlement freeze to allow talks to resume. It would be a serious setback if there was an irretrievable breakdown of the talks, and Britain will work with the United States and others to try to avert this from happening.
We also appreciate Oman’s insight into the situation in Pakistan. Britain is committed to supporting Pakistan as it seeks to tackle violent extremism and to meet the needs of its people, particularly after the recent devastating flooding. Helping Pakistan to transform itself into a more stable, prosperous and democratic Pakistan is vital to all our interests. In the UK we are increasing our development aid to Pakistan to £665m for the period 2009-2013. We will continue to work with Pakistan to achieve our shared goals of lasting stability and security in Afghanistan. And we know that Oman, with its strong historical links with Baluchistan, has common cause with us on this issue.
Finally we must strive to work together to help reduce conflict in Somalia and improve governance and democracy there. This includes addressing the scourge of piracy that undermines legitimate trade and transport. We are grateful for Oman’s provision of port access to our ships and those of other countries undertaking anti-piracy in the Indian Ocean, and we continue to urge all our international partners to contribute to international counter piracy operations.
The UK and Oman already have a unique relationship and a long history of co-operation. During the State Visit we will celebrate our past achievements, of which there are many, and look towards a yet more positive future in our relations.