Cablegate: Scenesetter for Secretary Rice's Visit to Bahrain
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O 171343Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7794
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN PRIORITY 1367
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO PRIORITY 0990
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAMA 000252
FOR THE SECRETARY FROM AMBASSADOR ERELI
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/17/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV OVIP BA
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR SECRETARY RICE’S VISIT TO BAHRAIN
Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4 (b ) and (d).
1. (S) Madame Secretary, Embassy Manama is delighted to welcome you back to Bahrain. This is just about as good a bilateral relationship as we have anywhere: Bahrain’s leaders share our strategic vision for the region and they see their national interest as tied to ours.
2. (S) King Hamad and Sheikh Khalid have lofty ambitions for this ministerial. Their number-one security concern is Iran. They support our tough stand toward Tehran and hope that this GCC plus 2 gathering will galvanize regional cooperation to contain the regime there. Sheikh Khalid told us his goal for the meeting is to demonstrate that “we have an alliance that will not stand by and watch countries fall to Iran one by one.” In this context, the presence of Foreign Minister Zebari should send a clear to message to other Arab states that the time has come to embrace Iraq.
3. (S) A military corollary to our regional diplomacy is Secretary Gate’s efforts to promote greater multilateral
security cooperation among GCC members. In this too, Bahrain is an enthusiastic supporter, and along with the UAE, wants to move forward as rapidly as possible. Internally, sectarian violence continues to simmer and political life is becoming increasingly polarized.
Iran and the Region
4. (S) In looking at developments in the Gulf, Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq, the Government of Bahrain sees a concerted campaign by the regime in Tehran to spread its extremist ideology throughout the region. It seeks to counter this threat through more assertive and robust regional cooperation with the United States. Bahrain’s leadership pushed to host the GCC plus 2 because it believes this forum represents the best hope for accomplishing that objective.
5. (S) Our point that reintegrating Iraq into the Arab fold is critical to limiting Iranian influence has had real resonance with the Bahraini leadership, as evidenced by their decision to invite Zebari to this ministerial and to send an Ambassador to Baghdad. It has been a month since Sheikh Khalid announced that decision in Washington, and the Foreign Ministry is still vetting a shortlist of candidates. (Iraq’s Ambassador to Bahrain has told us that he is exasperated by Bahrain’s ambivalence toward improving relations. On the one hand, their officials publicly declare a willingness to engage and privately, the Deputy Prime Minister has encouraged him to organize more high-level visits. On the other hand, every time he tries to bring ministers to Manama, the authorities here drag their feet. He’s been working for months to arrange a visit by the Minister of Tourism and to organize a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, but complains that he is met with only delay and evasion.)
6. (S) Bahrain’s leaders are also focusing on unilateral steps to protect themselves. They want to enhance Bahrain’s missile defense capability as quickly as possible. King Hamad told Secretary Gates on March 26 that Bahrain needed three Patriot firing units; he hoped the U.S. would provide one and Bahrain would buy or lease the other two. A Patriot firing unit will temporarily deploy to Bahrain in May as part of the annual GCC military exercise, Eagle Resolve. OSD is examining options for providing a longer-term solution, including re-deployment to the region of some of the Patriot units currently based in the United States as well as the periodic deployment of SM-2 and SM-3 equipped AEGIS cruisers.
7. (S) Vulnerability to maritime threats is a second leading concern. The government has made enhancing coastal defense a high priority. The Embassy and NAVCENT have submitted a 1206 request for $20 million to upgrade Bahrain’s Coastal Surveillance Radar. If approved, this proposal would significantly improve Bahrain’s maritime security capability and send a strong message of support to the government at a time of steep reductions in FMF and IMET funding.
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Multilateral Security Cooperation
8. (S) Bahrain is a leading advocate for greater multilateral security cooperation. They eagerly welcomed Secretary Gates’ initiative on regional air and maritime defenses. As a result of his meeting with Chiefs of Staff from the GCC and Jordan in Manama last December, there is now broad recognition that effective regional air and maritime defense requires multilateral cooperation. Following up, NAVCENT hosted a Maritime Infrastructure Symposium in February, which was attended by representatives from the GCC and some NATO countries. Air Force Chief of Staff General Mosley will bring together in Bahrain this June Air Chiefs from the GCC plus 2 to develop a way-ahead for shared early warning and regional air defense. On March 4, Bahrain’s navy took command of Combined Task Force (CTF) 152, the coalition maritime force that patrols the central and southern Arabian Gulf. It is the first time a Gulf state has commanded a coalition military operation. It is also worth mentioning that on April 23-24, Bahrain will host a meeting of NATO’s North Atlantic Council as part of the Istanbul initiative.
MONITORING IRANIAN MONEY FLOWS
9. (S) Bahrain’s Central Bank carefully monitors Iranian money flows. Financial services account for almost thirty percent of Bahrain’s GDP. The leadership here is well aware of the damage that illicit Iranian activity would have on Bahrain’s reputation, which in banking and finance is everything. Moreover, they share our desire to prevent Iran from exploiting the international system to fund terror and weapons proliferation. They are outspoken in their calls for GCC neighbors to exercise the same degree of careful oversight.
11. (C) Internally, conditions in Bahrain continue to simmer. Small but violent bands of Shi’a underclass youth, frustrated with persistent discrimination and what they perceive as too gradual a pace of reform, clash with police nearly every week. The Sunni minority, which rules the country and controls all security forces, has generally acted with restraint, but it takes only one mistake to provoke a potentially disastrous escalation.
12. (C) Many feared just such a scenario when, on the evening of April 9, a policeman was killed in the Shia village of Kazarkhan by youths who threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, igniting his vehicle. The murder of a law enforcement officer crossed a red line and concern was high that security forces would react with a massive crack-down, further inflaming sectarian tensions. In fact, it appears that all sides - Shia and Sunni, regime and opposition - looked over the precipice and decided not to take the leap. All have walked their followers back and made a conscious decision to advocate restraint and tolerance. The police have arrested 14 people believed to be connected to the attack. All major political societies, including the largest Shia party, Al-Wifaq, issued strong statements condemning the killing and supporting the security forces. Other than the arrests, there has been no security crackdown. King Hamad recognizes the danger that violence and political stalemate represent for his democratic reforms and is playing a behind-the-scenes role to encourage moderation and compromise among political leaders.