Oman, strategically positioned across Iran, north of Yemen and to the east of Saudi Arabia, has since the days of the ancient Magan civilization, from the fourth millennium BC, sought contact with the nations of the ancient and modern world by taking advantage of its unique geographical position at a junction of sea routes between Arabia, East Africa and Asia. By the eighth century, Omani merchants navigated the perils of the Indian Ocean and sailed to Canton in China and to East Africa. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Oman's ruler, Sultan Sultan Said bin Sultan (1797-1856), sent merchant ships to London and New York and subsequently forged strong commercial and diplomatic ties with both Great Britain and the United States; a strategic alliance maintained by Oman until the present. In addition to its strategic alliance with Washington and London, Muscat has since the 1970s established a foreign policy doctrine based on neutrality, while avoiding interfering in the internal affairs of any state in the region. Given Oman's precarious location, sharing the Straits of Hormuz with Iran coupled with its close geographical proximity to the Indian Ocean, where Somali pirates operate, maritime security has over the past decade become a key pillar of the country's foreign policy strategy.
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