News / Middle East

US Urges Restraint in Bahrain Protests

Bahraini soldiers in tanks and armored vehicles stand ready, Feb 17 2011, near a main highway west of the capital of Manama
Bahraini soldiers in tanks and armored vehicles stand ready, Feb 17 2011, near a main highway west of the capital of Manama

Top Obama administration officials urged restraint by the Bahraini government Thursday amid lethal political violence in the strategic Gulf state. The United States meanwhile is providing additional aid to Egypt to support a democratic transition.

Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates called their Bahraini counterparts Thursday to urge restraint by the long-time Gulf ally as it confronts protestors.

The Bahraini monarchy, which the United States has in the past praised for reform moves, has cracked down violently on local protests, with a police raid on anti-government demonstrators early Thursday leaving several people dead and many injured.

Speaking to reporters after briefing U.S. Senators on widening Middle East political unrest, Secretary Clinton said she called Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa to directly convey deep U.S. concerns about the actions of Bahraini security forces.

She said the United States does not want to see a return to violence during Friday’s Muslim prayers and funerals for those killed in the Manama police sweep.

"Bahrain is a friend and ally and has been for many years. And while all governments have a responsibility to provide citizens with security and stability, we call on restraint. We call on restraint from the government to keep its commitment to hold accountable those who have utilized excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. And, we urge a return to a process that will result in real meaningful changes for the people there," she said.

Bahrain has long been host to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. A Pentagon spokesman said Defense Secretary Gates discussed the security situation in a call to Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman, the deputy armed forces commander.

Clinton said the administration is drawing an additional $150 million  in aid to Egypt from other accounts to help support the transition to democracy there. She said a U.S. team lead by Undersecretary of State William Burns will travel to Cairo next week to discuss how best to allocate the $2 billion annual U.S, aid program to support reform efforts.

The Secretary’s visit to Capitol Hill came as the administration tries to blunt moves by House Republicans to sharply cut the State Department’s budget and U.S. foreign aid for the rest of the current fiscal year.

She said cuts of the magnitude being discussed would severely harm U.S. diplomacy. "I told our congressional colleagues that the fiscal year 2011 spending bill that is on the House floor right now would have serious negative consequences for America’s national security. The 16 per cent cut for State and USAID in that bill would, for example, force us to scale back dramatically on our missions in the front line states of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan," she said.

Marine Corps General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who appeared with Clinton, said failing to field an adequate U.S. civilian presence in Iraq as American troops are withdrawn jeopardizes all the U.S. gains and sacrifices made there.

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