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Monday, March 7, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Obama diplomatic offensive: Envoys press for Shi'ite dialogue with Bahrain kingdom

ABU DHABI — The United States, which blocked a major regime crackdown, has been pressing the Shi'ite majority to negotiate reforms in Bahrain.


Officials said the administration of President Barack Obama has sent senior envoys to faciliate a dialogue between Bahrain's Sunni regime and the Shi'ite majority. They said such a dialogue was deemed crucial to maintain stability in a leading Gulf Arab ally of Washington.

"We call on all of Bahrain's friends and neighbors to support fully a Bahraini process and to refrain, as we are, from interference or trying to impose a non-Bahraini solution from outside Bahrain," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman said. "Bahrainis can count on U.S. support to back a Bahraini consensus on the way forward."

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During a visit earlier this month, Feltman met Bahraini government leaders as well as Shi'ite opposition parliamentarians in an effort to launch a dialogue. Feltman acknowledged that Shi'ite representatives were rejecting a dialogue unless Manama instituted immediate reforms, including new elections, an investigation of the shooting of protesters and a reduction of the authority of King Hamad.

"Negotiations are designed to lead to results, not to have the results stated or rejected up front," Feltman told a briefing at the U.S. embassy in Manama on March 3.

Officials said the administration's effort has been coordinated with Bahrain's neighbor, Saudi Arabia. They said the three countries have agreed that Iran must be prevented from establishing a strategic foothold in Bahrain, headquarters to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

"I hope we could provide somewhat of an international engine to push this forward once it gets going," Feltman, responsible for the Middle East at the State Department, said.

Officials said Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United States have determined that Shi'ite opposition elements were receiving support and guidance from Iran. They said the U.S. assessment, which for years attributed Shi'ite unrest to Sunni discrimination, was revised over the last month amid heavy pressure by Riyad.

In meetings in Manama and Washington, the administration has encouraged the efforts of Crown Prince Salman, the king's son, to begin a dialogue. In February, Salman agreed to U.S. appeals to withdraw the military from downtown Manama, the focus of opposition unrest in which at least seven people were killed. Later, the U.S.-educated Salman ordered a release of some political prisoners and a Cabinet reshuffle.

"We see it as important that the moderate middle of this country that still seems to reflect the majority of Bahraini views be the ones that set the agenda for the political calendar going forward and not the extremists on each side," Feltman said. "It seems to me that many leaders in the government and outside of the government recognize the need to strengthen the moderate middle rather than be dictated to by the extremists on both sides."

"I don't want to leave you with any doubt, security issues and economic issues alone are in our view not enough to address the challenges Bahrain faces and that a credible, deep, political reform process such as what is proposed in the crown prince's dialogue is what is needed," Feltman said.


This is an excellent write up, thought process and way forward on the subject that has been written since February 14. I think the moderate youth, positive vision and realistic approach are key to Bahrain's current problems. I am positive, with the maturity and foresight that has been seen amongst Bahrainis population and leadership, both Shi'ites and Sunnis, the ultimate dialogue that seems inevitable now, is going to prove Bahrainis right, and all the biased international media, hopelessly wrong.

Kamlesh Bhatia [ ]      8:25 a.m. / Tuesday, March 8, 2011

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