The government of Oman has privately informed Washington that it is again willing to proceed with a military facilities agreement, after threatening to cancel any agreement in the wake of the aborted U.S. hostage rescue million in Iran, according to reliable sources.
In the mission, U.S. C130 transport planes used airfields in Oman both on the way in and out of Iran without asking permission of the government of Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
When word of the U.S. use of the Omani air fields leaked out it outraged the sultan who, while anxious to cooperate with the United States generally, is extremely sensitive to publicity about his links to Washington and to criticism of those links in other parts of the Arab world.
For the past six months -- since the U.S. hostages were taken in Tehran and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan -- the United States has been negotiating with the governments of Oman, Kenya and Somalia. The objective is to reach agreement under which U.S. ships and planes would be allowed acess to ports and airfields in those countries if there were an emergency in the Persian Gulf.
Though the negotiations with Oman were going well and were virtually completed at the time of the U.S recsue attempt on April 24, the final agreement had not been signed. Furthermore, the future facilities arrangement calls for prior notification for any use by this country or Umani facilities.
In the aftermath of the aborted rescue raid, State Department officials acknowledged that the sultan was angry and embarrassed and the agreement was in danger. But subsequent U.S. diplomatic efforts, said to be carried out mostly by the U.S. ambassador to Oman, rather than a special emissary sent from Washington, have succeeded in smoothing things once again, sources said.
Of the three countries where facilities arrangements are being sought, the ports and airfields in Oman and on the Omani island of Masira probably are the most important because of their strategic location at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The deal being negotiated by the Carter administration involves U.S. economic aid, some military assistance, and some repair work on ports and airfields in those countries in return for access.
However, the agreement with Somalia is still nowhere near conclusion because Somalia demands for U.S. economic aid are several times higher than Washington is willing to pay or Congress is likely to approve -- especially since Somalia continues to be involved in a battle with neighboring Ethopia in the disputed Ogaden desert region.