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Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Oman today to thank the Gulf state’s ruler for his role in securing the release of three American hikers jailed by Iran, and to discuss efforts to meet demands for greater economic and political freedoms in the sultanate.
Clinton will also hold talks with Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said on the recent alleged plot by Iran to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, and protests in nearby Syria and Yemen that have claimed the lives of demonstrators as the countries’ leaders cling to power, a U.S. official told reporters traveling with the secretary of State.
The U.S. is seeking to exert pressure on Iran, which it views as a rogue state that threatens global security, and Oman is key to that effort as a rare U.S. ally that has a friendly relationship with the government in Tehran, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition that his name not be used because of the sensitive nature of the talks.
Qaboos was instrumental in the release last month of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who spent two years imprisoned in Iran on charges of illegal entry and espionage, and in last year’s release of a third hiker, Sarah Shourd.
Lawyers for the three said Oman arranged for $500,000 in bail to be paid for each as a condition of their release. The trio, who denied spying, said they were trekking in Iraq in July 2009 when they were beckoned to approach a guard who then arrested them for illegal entry into neighboring Iran.
Omanis in the city of Sohar, inspired by protests that have spread across the Arab world and have unseated leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, held demonstrations in February demanding more jobs and better pay. At least one person was killed in clashes with security forces.
Qaboos held elections Oct. 15 for an 84-member Shura Council that serves an advisory role to the sultan, Oman’s ruler for the past four decades. In the wake of the protests, Qaboos pledged to give the council greater powers, though none have been announced.
The sultan also promised 50,000 new civil servant posts and $2.6 billion in spending to create other jobs.
In last weekend’s vote, candidates were for the first time allowed to campaign publicly through media and billboards. About 1,300 people contested the election, and the state-run Oman News Agency reported that one woman was among those elected.
Clinton’s trip follows a brief visit yesterday to Libya, where she discussed the transition to democracy following the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi.
--with reporting by Vivian Salama in Abu Dhabi and Ladane Nasseri in Tehran. Editors: Mark Williams, Peter Hirschberg
To contact the reporter on this story: Indira Lakshmanan at Muscat, Oman or firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at email@example.com