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Kerry visits Oman for arms deal, talks on Syria, Mideast

One of Raytheon's Integrated Defense buildings is seen in San Diego, California January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake
One of Raytheon's Integrated Defense buildings is seen in San Diego, California January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Arshad Mohammed

MUSCAT (Reuters) - Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Oman on Tuesday for Raytheon Co's signing of an estimated $2.1 billion arms deal and to consult on Syria and Iran, U.S. officials said.

Oman is expected to sign a letter of intent to purchase a ground-based air defence system that would help protect against cruise missile, drone or fighter aircraft attacks, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters aboard Kerry's plane.

Part of the sale has been previously disclosed. In October 2011, the U.S. Defense Department notified Congress of a proposed $1.25 billion sale of Avenger fire units, Stinger missiles, and Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles to Oman.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the $2.1 billion deal included these elements - which are being funded with the help of U.S. government financing - as well as other items that Oman is buying directly from the arms maker.

The official also said terms were still being negotiated and the value of the sale could change, adding it was unclear if Kerry would attend the signing expected on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Raytheon spokesman Jonathan Kasle had no immediate comment.

Raytheon Chief Executive Bill Swanson told an earnings call last month that the company was making "considerable progress" on a number of foreign arms sales, including a deal to sell a ground-based air defence system to Oman.

Raytheon generates more of its revenues overseas than any other large U.S. weapons maker. It has forecast a 20-percent increase in foreign bookings in 2013.

SYRIA, IRAN ALSO ON AGENDA

Oman sits opposite Iran on the Strait of Hormuz, through which some 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil passes, and is a U.S.-allied Gulf Arab State while also maintaining good relations with the Shi'ite-ruled Islamic Republic.

Kerry's visit is the first stop on a week-long trip that will take him to Amman for talks on bringing Syria's warring parties to a peace conference and to Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Both issues were expected to come up in Kerry's talks with Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Arab world's longest-serving ruler, on Tuesday, said the officials, who spoke to reporters as Kerry flew to Oman. Kerry headed straight from the airport to meet the sultan at his main residence, the vast Bait Al Baraka palace.

"It's basically a chance to do a signals check with an important ally," said a second senior State Department official. "Oman is not a key player on Syria but, as an important player in the Gulf, I think it will be good to hear the sultan's views on the situation in the region writ large."

More than 80,000 people are believed to have died in Syria's civil war, which began with peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad more than two years ago as popular uprisings swept long-time authoritarian rulers from power in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

It has since become a civil war fought largely along sectarian lines between mainly Sunni opposition fighters who have Gulf Arab and some Western backing and government forces supported by Shi'ite Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Assad also benefits from diplomatic support and arms sales from Russia.

Kerry on Wednesday will meet in Jordan with senior officials from mostly Western and Arab states backing Syria's opposition to discuss how to bring both sides to the negotiating table.

The United States and Russia announced two weeks ago that they would try to bring the two sides together - possibly in Geneva in June - for a peace conference that would choose a transitional government.

But there are a host of unanswered questions, including why Assad would send representatives to a conference which Western officials believe must eventually lead to his departure, and who will represent the opposition, which resists the idea of Assad having any role in governing Syria, even during a transition.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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