Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Two Different Bahrains"

Another visit by a senior U.S. State Department official to Bahrain, another broad statement of support for the Bahraini government. This is reportedly Feltman's fifth visit to Bahrain since February 14. According to a State Department spokesman, he "[r]eiterat[ed] U.S. support for Bahraini national reconciliation and dialogue, he concurred with the Bahraini leadership's own embrace of the principles of reform and the respect for rule of law and coexistence." He also is said to have met with representatives of "the opposition," presumably al-Wifaq, though I've yet to find details about this.

Now this strangely rosy description of Bahrain as having "embrace[d] ...
the principles of reform and the respect for rule of law and coexistence" seemed to strike a lot of reporters at the press conference in Washington as odd, especially given the recent prison deaths, random arrests of citizens thought to form part of the opposition, persecution of journalists, and so on. As the very first reporter exclaimed,
I’m quite surprised by the tone of your statement because it seems like the push for demand for the respect of the rights of Bahrainis has been toned down quite a lot.
And then the next:
It sounds as if you’re talking about two different Bahrains because we’ve been talking at the podium about how horrible the situation is in Bahrain right now and U.S. concerns, whereas none of what you just said really reflected the seriousness of the situation there.
Let's everyone hope that the U.S. is saying things in private that it is not in public.

The full transcript of the press conference is pasted below, and I would suggest you take the time to read it. (Note again that this took place in Washington; I am not aware of remarks that Feltman made while in Bahrain.)

QUESTION: Can I start with Bahrain? So this time, Mr. Feltman was able to meet with leaders. How high were his meetings and how – I’m quite surprised by the tone of your statement because it seems like the push for demand for the respect of the rights of Bahrainis has been toned down quite a lot. You highlighted the concerns about Iran and your longstanding commitment to the people and the government who have been at loggerheads in recent weeks. Has this tone softened?

MR. TONER: Well, again, you’ve summarized some of what I said. But he also underscored the United States’ belief in universal values and conveyed that belief to the Bahraini authorities. And he also emphasized the fundamental need for respect for human rights. So I wouldn’t say there’s been any softening, but these talks took place in a very constructive atmosphere.

And we believe that this was done in a constructive manner and progress was made, and that going forward, we urge both that ongoing respect for human rights, but as well as the opposition and the Bahraini Government to engage in a political dialogue that leads to resolution.

QUESTION: Can you tell us some of the things that you expressed concerns about – the deaths in prisons, maybe?

MR. TONER: I think I – I mean, I think I’ve spoken to all of the incidents about which we have concern over the past week, including, as you noted, the death of a prominent human rights activist last week.

QUESTION: There are continued, I mean, deaths and human rights abuses taking place in Bahrain that have been documented by human rights groups over the last week and – I mean, the situation in Bahrain has been getting really bad. Last week, there were numerous criticisms of the United States and its approach to Bahrain, and, I mean, even if you’re couching your language at this podium, I hope that we can expect that – I mean, that Secretary Feltman took – can you say that he raised some of these serious issues?

And it sounds as if you’re talking about two different Bahrains because we’ve been talking at the podium about how horrible the situation is in Bahrain right now and U.S. concerns, whereas none of what you just said really reflected the seriousness of the situation there.

MR. TONER: Well, Elise, again, I disagree. Secretary Feltman went to Bahrain. He went there both to speak to the government as well as to the opposition, met with a wide range of actors, and did so in a constructive spirit. But we’ve been very, very clear about where we stand on this, that the Bahraini Government needs to respect human rights and needs to address the legitimate aspirations of its own people, and that was conveyed.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Different subject. I’ll just wait. Can – sorry. Can you explain what the concerns were about Iran’s exploitation? Was that particular to Bahrain in this case? And what is Iran’s exploitation of the crisis?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I don’t want to get into – too deeply into details and specifics, but others have expressed that concern both with regard to Syria and with regard to Bahrain, the situation there, that Iran continues to play a less than constructive role in the region.

Now for some other interesting bits of news. First, on the same day that the State Department met with their Bahraini friends in Manama, the Bahraini prime minister met with his in Riyadh.

Then we hear from Sh. Khalid bin Ahmad that GCC troops "will leave [Bahrain] when they are done with any external threat" from Iran. "The external threat is a regional one," he continued. "The external threat is a complete misunderstanding between the GCC and Iran. This is a threat." A funny definition of what a threat is, but I suppose that means that we should not expect to see GCC forces leave anytime soon. I'm not sure anyone was.

Finally, the newest war of words between Iran and Saudi Arabia has made for some good quotes bordering on open threats. Here is one from Turki bin Sa'ud in response to a protest outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran:

We hope that these continuous violations will not lead us to take other positions. ... We hope not to resort to other measures, However if matters reached an unacceptable level then it is our right to protect our citizens.

And then the "Supreme Leader's Advisor for Military Affairs Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi":
The presence and attitude of Saudi Arabia [in Bahrain] sets an incorrect precedence for similar future events, and Saudi Arabia should consider this fact that one day the very same event may recur in Saudi Arabia itself and Saudi Arabi may come under invasion for the very same excuse.
Nice.

Update: Another interesting development in the last day or two is the spamming of anti-opposition/anti-Shi'a stories on Twitter, presumably by government supporters:


Who said the social revolution is useful only to regime opponents?

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry i'm not buying this "proof of iran interference". If people think this is bad can you imagine how far the "iran" boogyman would have been used by the USA had wikileaks not released a cable clearly stating Iran had not interfered in Bahrain for in 2 decades.

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