Bahrain’s Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa stressed Sunday his country’s aims to promote human rights and bolster global security and stability, reports Bahrain state media.
The statement made to a US Congress delegation comes amid reports a US arms deal with Bahrain could be linked to claims of human rights violations. A US State Department spokesperson confirmed Friday that Bahrain is negotiating a $53 million contract with Bahrain for “armored high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, better known as humvees and TOW missiles to go on them” aimed at protecting the country from a potential attack “or nefarious activity by countries like Iran.”
According to BNA, Al-Khalifa, “stressed the importance of dialogue-as a strategic choice – and the protection of human rights and liberties as the cornerstone of Bahrain’s reform policies.”
BNA reported “that the US Congress delegation led by House of Representatives member Donald Payne acknowledged Bahrain’s efforts to embark on democracy and promote reforms steadily. They also lauded the Government’s efforts in this regard, ensuring Bahrain’s pioneering democratic and reform strides.”
On Friday, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland acknowledged that the State Department had received a letter from a number of members of US Congress regarding the sale, to which she responded, “As you know, human rights is an issue that we take into account when we look at missile sales. In this case, this is a notification about future intent. This sale doesn’t – there’s a timetable, and quite an extended one, for when these things might be delivered, and we will continue to take human rights into consideration as we make future decisions about this.”
Nevertheless, Nuland said that the sale is designed to support the Bahraini military in its external defense function, “specifically in hardening the country against potential attack or nefarious activity by countries like Iran, et cetera, and we do have an interest in Bahrain and our other Gulf partners being able to be strong militarily vis-à-vis the regional challenges that they face.”
“So again, this is a notification. No transfer decisions have been made. Human rights will be taken into account. We are discussing this with the Congress. We are also discussing this with the Bahrainis as well as the full docket of human rights issues, and we are continuing to look at things,” Nuland said.
At the Friday press conference, in response to a journalist’s questions if the State Department was expecting an invasion from Iran Nulan declined to comment.
When asked if it’s safe to assume that the intent will be used as a bargaining chip or a leverage with the Bahraini Government, conditional on the human rights situation, that the US is not going to deliver the arms unless there is a change in the human rights situation, Nuland responded, “I don’t think that’s an accurate way to portray this. This is a foreign military sale for use against an external threat. However, whenever we sell military equipment, we have to – we hold countries to high human rights standards. So we are watching intently the work of this independent Bahraini commission. It will make its report. The Bahraini Government will need to take steps to address what is found. And as I said, we don’t make foreign military sales without taking human rights considerations into account. But I wouldn’t characterize this the way you have.”