The U.S. will go ahead with the sale of some weapons to Bahrain, an “important security partner and ally in a region facing enormous challenges,” according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
The U.S. is proceeding with the certain weapons deliveries that had been frozen in the wake of the kingdom’s crackdown on protests. The equipment includes Raytheon Co. (RTN:US)’s AMRAAM air-to- air missiles and ammunition, according to a person briefed on the sale who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly. An administration official said the package also includes upgraded F16 jet engines, harbor boats and a frigate.
“We have made the decision to release additional items to Bahrain mindful of the fact that there are a number of serious unresolved human rights issues that the government of Bahrain needs to address,” Nuland said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
The U.S. is withholding anti-tank missiles, which could be used against protester strongholds, as well Humvees, she said.
“Certain additional items for the Bahrain Defense Force, as well as all items for the Ministry of the Interior, excepting the Coast Guard and units deployed in Afghanistan, will also remain on hold,” she said. “The items that we are releasing are not used for crowd control.”
The sale is “completely out of step with the United States’ stated commitment to reform in Bahrain,” said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. Dooley recently returned from the Persian Gulf nation and issued a report detailing police abuse, judicial harassment and restrictions of human rights groups’ access.
A U.S. official said the administration has raised its concerns with Bahraini officials about human rights, including individual cases such as that of jailed protest leader Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on a hunger strike since Feb. 8.
The U.S. is concerned about “excessive use of force and tear gas by police” as Bahrain has become “increasingly polarized,” Nuland said. While Bahrain has “begun to take some important steps” on reforms, “much work remains to be done,” she said.
“The United States believes that addressing the underlying causes of last year’s unrest and undertaking meaningful political and institutional reforms are critical to Bahrain’s stability and the strength of our countries’ longstanding partnership,” she said.
The U.S. and Bahrain signed a defense agreement in 1991, and the weapons sales are geared toward providing interoperability between the two countries’ militaries. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and is positioned as a bulwark against Iranian ambitions in the Persian Gulf.
Gulf Security Commitment
Maintaining Bahrain’s military capabilities is a “critical component of our commitment to Gulf security, Nuland said.
After lifting a state of emergency in June 2011, Bahrain embarked on a report by a government-appointed Commission of Inquiry that issued recommendations for reform. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al- Khalifa and took note of the steps taken to implement the recommendations, according to a State Department statement.
While Bahrain has begun implementing reforms, Senator Patrick Leahy continues to have concerns about the lack of credible investigations of past abuses by the police and military and about the continuing violence, according to his spokesman, David Carle. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who heads the Senate panel responsible for the State Department’s funding, crafted conditions placed on sales of tear gas and other crowd- control items after Bahrain crushed protests.
‘‘It’s not a black-and-white situation,” Carle said, saying that some protesters have used violent tactics. “But there clearly is a popular desire for more political freedom in Bahrain, and Senator Leahy is concerned about how the government is dealing with the situation, including the need for credible investigations of the use of excessive force by its security forces.”
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