Top officials at the State Department overruled their own staffers' concerns and overlooked the human rights abuses of a key ally during international negotiations with Iran, says a report released Monday.
According to Reuters, anonymous officials in the department claimed that the U.S. appeared to turn a blind eye to some of Persian Gulf nation Oman’s behavior in exchange for its support in bringing Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program.
Top diplomatic officials declined to downgrade Oman on an annual report about human trafficking, Reuters reported, against the recommendations of their staff. The disagreement reportedly delayed publication of the report by more than a month, which ultimately left the Arab nation's status unchanged.
According to one anonymous Western diplomatic source speaking to the news outlet, Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Storms a growing danger for East Coast Israel, Jordan, UAE sign pivotal deal to swap solar energy, desalinated water GOP seeks oversight hearing with Kerry on climate diplomacy MORE “doesn't want to see Oman downgraded.”
Oman was not one of the six nations participating in talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
However, it helped facilitate back-channel talks ahead of the formal negotiations, which paved the way for this year’s landmark agreement. The accord, which President Obama is heralding as one of his legacy accomplishments, imposes limits on Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon in exchange for the rolling back of sanctions on its oil and financial sector.
However, Oman has trouble with “forced labor,” the State Department said in its annual Trafficking in Persons report.
Foreign workers can have their passports confiscated, are subject to “physical and mental abuse” and can be forced to undertake “excessive working hours,” the analysis claimed. In other cases, women engaged as domestic workers are forced into prostitution.
According to Reuters, some State Department staffers initially decided that Oman had not taken enough steps to improve the workers’ plight.
That inaction ought to downgrade the country’s status from “Tier 2” to “Tier 2 Watch List,” some officials concluded, Reuters reported. “Tier 2 Watch List” is the second lowest category in the State Department’s list.
Aside from the negative repercussions of such a public scolding, a downgrade would also bring Oman just one level above “Tier 3,” which could lead to sanctions.
When the report was published in July, however, Oman remained at “Tier 2.”
The revelation could lead to extra scrutiny on the annual State Department report, which has previously come under fire for being colored by politics.
Earlier this year, lawmakers in both parties warned that the Obama administration had upgraded Malaysia’s status to help smooth its participation in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.