In an effort to protect Western strategic interests in the Perisan Gulf and the Red Sea, the United States is seeking new limited military cooperation arrangements in Oman and Bahrain to replace facilities that existed in both countries until recently.
The outlook appears good for the United States to retain enough access to meet its essential needs while sparing these cooperative Arab countries from the political embarrassment of accepting American "bases."
It is expected that Oman will authorize continued U.S. reconnaissance flights over the oil tanker routes from this Indian Ocean island, whose air-field was a British Royal Air Force base until it was handed back to Oman this month.
At the same time, the U.S. Navy appears to have won a reprieve from its scheduled eviction in July from the American facility on Bahrain, the Persian Gulf island which, along with Diego Garcia, is the only American naval onshore command between the Philippines and the Meditarranean.
The Western military profile will be lowered in both locations, but the host countries appear ready to permit a core of U.S. operations to survive, but under the control of the local governments.
In exchange, officials in both Bahrain and Oman have spoken of expanded military cooperation between their armed forces and the United States.
Together, Oman and Bahrain provide an important Western buttress in the Red Sea-Indian Ocean area.
On Masira, a sandy island 15 miles off Oman in the Arabian Sea, U.S. military planes began using the British base in mid-1976 for his long-range reconnaissance patrols in the Indian Ocean and continued until the handover to Oman. U.S. Navy plans landed on Masira - apparently for refueling and to forward photo data - at "prearranged intervals" varying from once a month to once a week.
While the Carter administration has given no firm public indication of its intentions in the Gulf, it is understood here that Washington seeks agreement from Oman's Sultan Qaboos to continue this limited cooperation.
The issue is sensitive, however, because of earlier rumors that the United States wanted to take over the British base. An Omani official said he thought it would be impolitic for the United States to press "right now" for a landing rights on Masira.
Despite the risk of hostile Arab propaganda attacks, Sultan Qaboos has said he intends to offer transit rights and refueling facilities on his island to "friendly countries" in peacetime.
He has spoken of future military cooperation between Oman and the United States, and the U.S. government has indicated it has no objection to Oman's obtaining C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft from Lockheed. One of these, already flying Omani colors, apparently was a gift from Iran, which helped Oman quell a rebellion in the southern province of Dhofar.
Meanwhile, Oman is converting the old British base here into a year-round flight training school for Omani air force cadets, who one day will fly British-made Strikemaster, Hawker-Hunter and Jaguar left fighters.
The new military complement here is small than 100 men, including a score of British officers who have remained on loan to Oman as instructors and airfield officers.
As officers of the Oman air force, they will operate the 7,000-foot runway, which is capable of handling the largest aircraft and made Masira a British link to Cyprus and to the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Today, it is a potential staging point in any conflict over the Horn of Africa.
While Pan American World Airways has taken over air traffic control at Oman's other two commercial-military airports, there were no American personnel or facilities visible when reporters were allowed to visit this island, which was generally off limits to the press when it was under British control.
The new commander explained that shallow water and dangerous reefs around the island made nonsense of press reports in Beirut and Moscow of U.S. plans to install naval or submarine base on Masira.
The only Americans here were two young women in the Peace Corp and an engineer operating a desalting plant for drinking water for Masira's indigenous population.
The only official Western presence here is a BBC radio relay station.
On Bahrain, two hours' flight north, the United States hopes to retain the essentials of its Jufair facility near Manama Harbor in the Persian Gulf, whose oilfields are vital to Western industrial nations and Japan.
The U.S. Mideast force operating out of Bahrain for 30 years, consists of a converted landing ship with special electronic gear and two destroyers. Land facilities include a communications unit and access to Bahrain airport and the island's growing shipyard industry.
During the 1973 Arab-Israel war, Bahrain invoked its eviction clause, but since then overt anti-American ferment in the Gulf has cooled, particularly after Bahrain and Kuwait dissolved their parliaments and muzzled the press.
Since the Carter administration has reached no announced accord with Bahrain, however, the number of naval personnel is being reduced to 50, from its former size of 250.
Bahraini officials indicate that in addition to rent - nearly $5 million last year for the broader facilities then enjoyed - they hope the United States will provide other help in a new agreement. A dozen American technical advisers have arrived on the island to bolster government departments, and Bahraini officials have indicated they would like U.S. help in training their embryonic coast guard and perhaps in other military areas.