Country Profile: Oman

With its vast eastern coastline nudging the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, Oman is viewed as strategically important given its position at the mouth of the Gulf.

The oldest independent Arab state in the world, the Sultanate of Oman was once one of the most traditional and isolated of Arab states until a recent extensive national modernization program.

Ever since a coup ousted his father from power in 1970, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said has sought to open up the oil-rich kingdom to the rest of the world.

Although an absolute monarch, who has taken on the roles of prime minister, defense and foreign minister, the Sultan is a popular figure in this Muslim-dominated kingdom, and is credited for building the country's modern infrastructure.

Another diplomatic asset has been Oman's moderate, independent foreign policy that has sought to maintain good relations with its Arab neighbors as well as with Britain, with which it has an extensive political and military relationship.

The scheduling of Omani and British military exercises called Saif Sareea or Swift Sword 2 in mid-September 2001 considerably increased the British military presence in the Indian Ocean region, the largest British task force abroad since the 1982 Falklands War.

The British military armory in Oman under Swift Sword 2 includes the aircraft carrier Illustrious, two nuclear submarines, the helicopter carrier Ocean, the assault ship Fearless, two frigates and two destroyers.