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New York Times: Rex Tillerson to Lift Human Rights Conditions on Arms Sale to Bahrain

2017-04-04 - 5:25 p

Bahrain Mirror: The US-based New York Times reported that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has decided to lift all human rights conditions on a major sale of F-16 fighter jets and other arms to Bahrain in an effort to end a rift between the United States and a critical Middle East ally, according to administration and congressional officials involved in the debate.

Mr. Tillerson's decision comes as the Trump administration looks to bolster Sunni Arab states in the Middle East and find new ways to confront Iran in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain is a key player in that effort, and home to the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet, which patrols the strategic waterway, the daily added

However, it noted that the decision to drop the human rights assurances as a condition of the sale is bound to be read by Saudi Arabia and other states in the region as a sign that the new administration plans to ease its demands to protect and respect political dissidents and protesters.

"If they lift the conditions, they're saying we don't think you need to reform, and the Bahrainis have a free pass to continue cracking down," said Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group.

Mr. Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has taken on much of the diplomacy with the Gulf Arab states himself, often bypassing American ambassadors and other American officials in the region. A Trump administration official said Mr. Tillerson knew many of the regional players from his time at Exxon Mobil.

New York Times also noted that the decision on Bahrain also suggests that Mr. Tillerson is likely to deal similarly with Saudi Arabia, the largest and most powerful Sunni force in the region. The Obama administration deepened its rift with its Gulf allies in December over the conflict in Yemen when it blocked a transfer of precision munitions to Saudi Arabia because of concerns about civilian casualties that American officials attributed to poor targeting.

On another note, the US daily indicated that Mr. Tillerson has signaled he favors reversing that decision, and allowing Raytheon to sell the Saudis about 16,000 guided munitions kits, which upgrade so-called dumb bombs to smart bombs that can more accurately hit targets. The kits, if purchased over the life of the proposed contract, are valued around $350 million.

The new secretary of state was criticized this month for skipping the release of his department's annual human rights report, an event his Democratic and Republican predecessors used as a moment to pressure allies and adversaries alike by highlighting abuses. During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Tillerson declined to criticize the state-ordered killings in the Philippines or repression in Saudi Arabia, saying he had to make his own assessment of the facts, and could not trust what he read in news reports.

Moreover, the daily noted that how the Trump administration handles the politically delicate issues could prove crucial to future relations with the strategically valuable Persian Gulf nation. The Navy's Fifth Fleet is the key to ensuring flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf, and safeguarding American interests in the highly volatile region.

Mr. Tillerson is no stranger to the politics of the region. Exxon Mobil has close connections with Qatar's national oil company, and has joined with Doha to build a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Gulf of Mexico coast that is designed for importing gas and possibly for exporting it as well. As a result, the company had a strong interest in keeping the shipping lanes in the region open - for which cooperation with Bahrain is key.

At the core of the decision, however, is the Trump administration's growing determination to find places to confront Iran for its activities in the region. In visits to Washington in the past several weeks, Gulf officials have praised President Trump for promising to get tougher with Tehran, which they regard as the great Shiite scourge of the Sunni Arab monarchies, the New York Times concluded.

Arabic Version    


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