By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
MUSCAT, Oman, Dec. 5, 2010 " Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here to meet with the country`s monarch, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, and the sultan`s minister responsible for defense affairs. Gates last visited Oman in April 2008.
While en route to Oman, a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Gates that Sultan Qaboos, who`s marking 40 years as the Omani monarch, is widely regarded as an insightful leader in the Gulf region. He has been active in seeking a diplomatic solution to issues in Iran that are causing concern among neighbors and other nations, the official noted.
One of the things we highly value in the relationship with the sultan is the fact that he is widely regarded as an honest broker in the region. He`s someone who enjoys a lot of respect from all parties, " the official said.
We obviously don`t delegate our diplomacy to anyone, " he continued, but to the degree that the sultan has a productive relationship with Iran and he can communicate things to the Iranians, that`s of value. "
Oman, about the size of New Mexico, features more than 2,000 miles of coastline. It`s separated from Iran to its north by the Gulf of Oman, and its east coast lies along the Arabian Sea. The United Arab Emirates border Oman at its northern tip and southward until it meets Oman`s border with Saudi Arabia, its neighbor to the west. Yemen borders the southwestern portion of Oman.
In Gates` meetings with Sultan Qaboos and with Badr bin Saud bin Harib al-Busaidi, Oman`s minister responsible for defense affairs, the discussions will cover a broad range of regional issues, the official said. The senior defense official said he`d be surprised if Iran doesn`t come up, but that he expects the discussions will include other matters.
I`m sure the sultan will want to hear about events in Afghanistan, " he said. They`ll talk about other regional issues, the peace process and other things, I`m sure. "
In addition to allowing him to meet with the sultan, Gates` visit to Oman provides an opportunity to visit U.S. sailors serving at sea. Tomorrow, the secretary will visit the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which is operating off Oman`s coast in the Arabian Gulf, supporting operations in Afghanistan.
The visit will be the secretary`s first to a deployed carrier, and Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said it`s something Gates has wanted to do for a long time.
He wants to thank the aviators and sailors of the Lincoln personally, and by extension, all who have served at sea in the region over the past decade, " Morrell said. He knows what they do for the ground forces in Afghanistan, and he wants them to know he and the American people appreciate it. "
Gates recognizes that while their work often goes unheralded, it`s been an important part of the war effort, Morrell said. The USS Lincoln provides one-third of the fixed-wing close-air support for ground forces in Afghanistan.
The secretary will observe air operations during the day and at night, and also will visit the other work centers on the ship, Morrell said. He`ll be aboard all day and overnight, meeting with the crew in small and large groups, including a town-hall session with thousands of crew members.
Gates also will preside at re-enlistment and award ceremonies aboard the Lincoln