Muscat: Canada is ready to strengthen its relationship with Oman in a number of sectors, said Canadian foreign minister John Baird, who was in the Sultanate on an official two-day visit.
Baird arrived in Muscat on Saturday, following a two-day visit to Egypt, and yesterday met with a number of Omani officials including Deputy Pm H.H. Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, Defence H.E. Sayyid Badr bin Saud al Busaidi and Yousuf Bin Alawi, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs. He also met with female members of the State Council, and local business people.
In an interview with Times of Oman, Baird described it as a whirlwind tour aimed at taking the relationship to the next level. Canada and Oman have ties in energy, business, education, defence and other areas already, but there is potential for a lot more growth. Canada can offer Oman expertise in the energy and mining sectors, he explained.
"We have a good relationship but there's so much potential to take it to the next level and that's why I'm here. On issue after issue after issue, it's good but it can be much better," Baird said.
Though the Canadian government is a steadfast ally of Israel, Baird claimed that his government has also put a particular priority on the Arab and Muslim world. He held meeting with Arab League officials in Cairo, and is working on a strategic dialogue with the GCC.
"It's a part of the world that really matters on trade, promoting Canadian values, natural resources, energy, defence, counter-terrorism," he said.
Baird said Canada and Oman have a lot in common, despite obvious geographical and cultural differences. Their respective relationships with their neighbours are quite similar, he asserted.
"We're a great country with a small population that lives next to a bigger, more powerful country so I think we can have the opportunity to see eye to eye on so many things. I'm certainly committed to work hard to strengthen this relationship," he added.
In a move to develop ties in Oman, Baird announced there would be a new honourary consul for Canada in Oman, news welcomed by Canadians. The previous consulate closed in June 2012 for financial reasons, but in order to boost ties, the Canadian government decided to reopen the consulate here, with Omani businessman Ali Daud taking on the role of consul.
"Listen, this represents the priority we're giving it. I'd like to take it to the next level but this is a great first step," explained Baird.
Baird said he was impressed by Oman's ability to "cut above its weight," especially when acting as a mediator between other countries, including its role in engagement with Iran. Canada cut ties diplomatic ties with Iran in September 2012 and expelled the Iranian diplomats from Ottawa.
When asked if Oman could help restore the relationship between Iran and Canada, Baird said he was interested in hearing Oman's perspective, but wanted concrete changes from Iran.
"Obviously we have significant challenges in our relationship with Iran, whether it's on the nuclear program, on human rights, or its support for terrorism. For us Iran's policy and talks are interesting, but what matters is real action," Baird said.
On a personal level, Baird he was thrilled to be in Muscat and was delighted by the geography, architecture and history.
"It's spectacular. The Grand Mosque is like one the great cathedrals or basilicas of the 16th or 17th century. The opera house is amazing. I'm a fan of architecture so this is incredible. They've also managed to maintain the heritage of Muscat, which is amazing and hard to do," he reflected.
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