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US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

Washington: The United States clinched a strategic port deal with Oman on Sunday which US officials say will allow the US military better access the Gulf region and reduce the need to send ships through the Strait of Hormuz, a maritime choke point off Iran.

The US embassy in Oman said in a statement that the agreement governed US access to facilities and ports in Duqm as well as in Salalah and “reaffirms the commitment of both countries to promoting mutual security goals.”

The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy.

But it comes as the United States grows increasingly concerned about Iran’s expanding missile programmes, which have improved in recent years despite sanctions and diplomatic pressure by the United States.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal was significant by improving access to ports that connect to a network of roads to the broader region, giving the US military great resiliency in a crisis.

“We used to operate on the assumption that we could just steam into the Gulf,” one US official said, adding, however, that “the quality and quantity of Iranian weapons raises concerns.” Tehran has in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route at the mouth of the Gulf, in retaliation for any hostile US action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.

Still, the US official noted that the agreement would expand US military options in the region for any kind of crisis.

Duqm is an ideal port for large ships. It is even big enough to turn around an aircraft carrier, a second official said.

“The port itself is very attractive and the geostrategic location is very attractive, again being outside the Strait of Hormuz,” the official said, adding that negotiations began under the Obama administration.

For Oman, the deal will further advance its efforts to transform Duqm, once just a fishing village 550 km south of capital Muscat, into a key Middle East industrial and port center, as its diversifies its economy beyond oil and gas exports.