US resumes Bahrain arms sales despite rights concerns
Published Friday 11/05/2012 (updated) 13/05/2012 18:27
Bahrain hosted last month's F1 championship despite protests.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States will resume some military sales to Bahrain despite human rights concerns following more than a year of popular protests against the island kingdom's rulers, the US State Department said Friday.
The Obama administration notified Congress that certain sales would be allowed for Bahrain's defense force, coast guard and national guard, although it would maintain a hold on TOW missiles, Humvees and some other items for now, the department said in a statement.
"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," the statement said.
The State Department did not give a total value for the items being released but emphasized that the equipment being approved was "not used for crowd control."
In October, the Obama administration delayed $53 million in planned sales to Bahrain, a key Gulf ally, pending the outcome of a local investigation into alleged human-rights abuses since an uprising began in February 2011.
Bahrain has been the host of US naval headquarters in the Gulf for more than 60 years and is seen as a central bulwark for US efforts to deter Iran.
Human rights advocates have criticized Washington for its muted response Bahrain's crackdown contrasted with strong US public support for popular protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria.
The State Department said Bahrain's government had taken steps to implement reforms but said "the country is becoming increasingly polarized and much work remains to be done."
"We are concerned about excessive use of force and tear gas by police. At the same time, we are concerned by the almost daily use of violence by some protestors," the statement said, urging both sides to refrain from incitement.
Some US lawmakers had criticized the proposed sale, saying it would weaken US credibility at a critical time of democratic transition in the Middle East.
But the Obama administration has also been under pressure to stick by Bahrain's ruling Sunni Muslim family, notably from Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the face of protests by the country's Shiite majority.
The original sale proposal, worth an estimated $53 million, included 44 "Humvee" armored vehicles and several hundred TOW missiles along with associated equipment. Prime contractors would be privately held AM General and Raytheon Co.