On June 1, President Clinton will host an official working visit by the Amir of Bahrain, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa. Shaikh Isa will also meet with Secretary of State Albright. We hope you will find the attached information about Bahrain helpful in covering his visit.
Bahrain (pop. 600,000) is a key U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf and serves as headquarters for the Fifth Fleet, comprising some fifteen warships and approximately 1,500 on-shore U.S. military personnel and dependents. During 1997 the U.S. Air Force deployed some twenty fighter bombers there, and several B-1 bombers as well. The State Department estimated that Fiscal Year 1998 military sales to Bahrain would total $201.2 million.
Shaikh Isa has been in power since 1961, but this is his first visit to Washington since civil unrest broke out in Bahrain three and a half years ago. In December 1994, long-simmering political tensions exploded when the government arrested and sent into exile several leaders of a petition campaign to restore Bahrain's partially elected parliament, which was disbanded by a decree of the ruling family in 1975.
In the wake of the December 1994 crackdown, hundreds of persons have been arrested and tried before State Security Courts, and thousands of others held for long periods without trial. Their alleged offenses have ranged from unlawful assembly and possession of anti-government literature to arson and crude explosive attacks against public and private property. The unrest has claimed more than thirty lives.
Questions for President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright:
1) The demands of Bahrain's opposition Popular Petition Committee for basic civil liberties are modest and reasonable: free speech, freedom of association and assembly, and restoration of the Constitution and the partially-elected National Assembly. Why has the Clinton administration failed to support such a program? What has the administration done to encourage Shaikh Isa to pursue dialogue and a political resolution to the crisis?
2) Since January 1996, Bahrain's government has detained without trial nine important leaders of the Shi`a Muslim community, including Shaikh Abd al-Amir al-Jamri, who is elderly and in poor health. There is no evidence that they committed or advocated violence. Have you discussed the case of Shaikh al-Jamri and the others with the Amir?
3) To many people in the Middle East and here at home, U.S silence in the face of gross human rights abuses by Persian Gulf allies such as Bahrain looks like a double standard. Will you make future military sales to Bahrain conditional on improvements in its treatment of its citizens, as required by Section 502 (B) of the Foreign Assistance Act?