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
"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.