2016: US-Bahraini Relations, F-16 Sales Halted (Timeline)
2017-01-08 - 4:31 am
Bahrain Mirror: The United States' halt of an arms deal with Bahrain (September 30, 2016), due to the latter's deteriorating human rights situation, was the highlight of foreign events that came in line with internal Bahraini affairs in 2016. The Obama administration informed the Congress that it would not fully agree to selling Bahrain 19 "F-16" fighter jets from Lockheed Martin for a $4 billion cost, unless it "makes progress in its human rights field."
Bahrain responded to this decision by saying it is "extremely concerned with the way foreign military sales are politicized." The Bahraini Embassy in Washington issued a statement, stressing that "The Bahraini government will not tolerate those who exploit sectarian divisions, whether locally or regionally", in reference to the opposition and in response to the repeated US calls for reforms.
The aforementioned came despite the special relations between Washington and Manama, as the island kingdom hosts the US Fifth Fleet. The US Administration had also called off in 2015 a similar arms deal with Bahrain, in the aftermath of the 2011 popular protests. Nonetheless, US diplomatic efforts continued throughout the year to spread positive messages about Bahrain. The new US Ambassador in Manama, William Roebuck, highlighted the "continuation of strong relations between Bahrain and the US", in a press interview on February 7, 2016. At the same time, Roebuck stressed that "citizens who express their opinions peacefully should not be detained", adding that "King Hamad deserves all appreciation for leading the reform efforts in Bahrain."
On the military level, the US Naval Forces Central Command Spokesperson, Lt. Ian McConaughey, said (February 4, 2016) that the "presence here in Bahrain is constant and here to stay," adding that "in the coming years you are going to see more new platforms coming to the area of operations. This is just a little taste of what's to come."
In support of the security cooperation between the US and Bahrain, the US Department of State's Political and Military Affairs office issued a statement in March 2016, announcing that "Bahrain is a vital partner of the US in major defense initiatives."
However, the weapon deals continued to overwhelm the strained relationship between both countries, following the outbreak of 2011 popular protests. Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force, Heidi Grant, for her part, cited on July 10, 2016 growing frustration among the key US allies in the Gulf, including Bahrain, about delays in arms sales. She further urged the US government to speed up consideration of long-standing bids by Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain to buy US fighter jets
As for Defense consultant Loren Thompson, he said on September 28, 2016 that US President Barack Obama's administration approved over two-year-long pending Lockheed Martin fighter jet sales to Bahrain. However, this approval did not go as expected.
According to a report published by Reuters on September 1, 2016, the United States was poised "to sell $7 billion worth of Boeing Co fighter jets to Qatar and Kuwait after years of delays," adding that "a third deal, the sale of F-16 fighters built by Lockheed Martin Corp to Bahrain, remains under consideration."
It was not long before Bloomberg cleared all doubts. It published a report on September 30, 2016, stating that the Obama Administration informed the Congress it would not fully approve selling Bahrain 19 F-16 fighter jets unless it makes substantial progress in the human rights field.
On a related note, the US Department of State prepared a report on Bahrain's implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) recommendations, at the request of the Congress on June 22, 2016. The report showed that Bahrain has not implemented a significant number of BICI recommendations, including those related to the protection of freedom of expression, including peaceful opposition.
On the other hand, Bahrain is working on developing relations with US President-elect Donald Trump. The Gulf kingdom held a ceremony marking its National Day in one of Trump's hotels in Washington. International media outlets highlighted the news of the Bahraini Embassy renting out the Trump Hotel hall to hold a special Bahrain National Day celebration. This event opened the door for media outlets to trigger the topic of Trump's conflict of interests between being a wealthy businessman, and having the political position of being the President of the United States.
comments powered by Disqus