Cablegate: Scenesetter for Visit of Bahrain's Crown Prince

DE RUEHMK #0577/01 2421107
P 291107Z AUG 08

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000577



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/28/2023

Classified By: CDA Christopher Henzel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1.(S) Summary: Bahrain's Crown Prince will visit Washington September 7-10. His visit is an opportunity to consult with a close partner and an advocate for reform. The Crown Prince hopes to get an update on U.S. thinking on Iran; he also values every opportunity to publicly remind the region - especially Iran - that Bahrain is particularly close to the U.S. He will likely inquire into the status of administration decision-making on missile defense in the Gulf, and on the return of U.S. Navy dependents to Bahrain. End summary. Itinerary ---------

2. (SBU) The Bahraini Embassy in Washington is seeking appointments at the White House, NSC, and OSD between September 7 and 10 for Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa. On September 9 Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead will host a dinner in the CP's honor.

3. (SBU) Before his meetings with the Administration, the Crown Prince will visit Boeing headquarters; Mayor Bloomberg in New York; and New York investment houses in his role as leader of Bahrain's economic reform efforts. In Washington, the Crown Prince will drop off his son, Shaikh Isa, for his freshman year at American University. Iran ----

4. (S) Earlier this summer, the Bahraini leadership was nervous about the near-term potential for armed conflict involving Iran. Those jitters appear to have subsided somewhat, but the Bahrainis continue to view Iran as a danger over the longer term. Bahrain's security partnership with the U.S. is the core of the Kingdom's national security strategy. Bahrain's leaders value contacts with the U.S. leadership as a reminder to Iran that the U.S. has important security interests - starting with Navcent headquarters - in Bahrain.

5. (S) With Iran in mind, the Crown Prince remains keenly interested in the latest U.S. thinking on missile defense for the region. He will also seek an update on U.S. diplomatic strategy for dealing with Iran's nuclear program, especially in light of events in the Caucasus. Counter-Terrorism -----------------

6. (S) The government of Bahrain continues to work closely with the USG against extremists with links to Al-Qaida. In July, Bahraini authorities captured Reuben Lavilla, a spiritual leader of the Filipino Raja Sulayman Movement. The GOB had entered Lavilla's name into its lookout database as required under UNSCR 1267, and this triggered his capture. Lavilla's extradition to the Philippines is now underway. In addition, a Bahraini Al-Qaida financier is currently on trial here. Navy Dependents ---------------

7.(C) The Crown Prince will also urge the return of Navy dependents to Bahrain. Since their departure in 2004, in the wake of U.S. concerns over the GOB's mishandling of several Sunni extremists, Bahrain has markedly improved its counter-terrorism performance. The Crown Prince is a strong advocate for the people-to-people contacts fostered by having Navy families in Bahrain. He views this as important to maintaining domestic support -- especially among the Bahraini elites who send children to the DoD Bahrain School -- for his strategy of alignment with the U.S. The Crown Prince is himself an alumnus of the Bahrain School. His eldest son graduated from the school in June, and another son is still attending.

8.(S) President Bush and Secretary Gates told the King during their March meetings in Washington that Navy dependents would begin returning soon. Unfortunately, this still hasn't happened. Post's understanding is that DoD is currently considering authorizing a return of spouses. Iraq ---- MANAMA 00000577 002 OF 002

9.(S) Bahrain has nominated an Ambassador to Iraq and is preparing to send a survey team to Baghdad to scout out a chancery building and Ambassador's residence. However, progress is slow. The Bahrainis remain distrustful of the Iraqi government, and want to avoid a repetition of the 2005 shooting of their then-chief of mission. Reform, Politics and the Economy --------------------------------

10.(C) Regional tensions may be contributing to the stridency of sectarian voices in Bahrain. The majority of Bahraini citizens are part of the Shi'a underclass, and their grievances, expressed both in legal political activity and in street skirmishes between youths and police, are at the center of all domestic politics here. While some Shi'a activists complain that King Hamad's reforms have not given them enough politically or economically, many Sunni hard-liners think the King has given away too much. Public exchanges of insults between Sunni and Shi'a leaders prompted the government to warn community leaders and journalists in July to avoid sectarian incitement. There have been no serious moves yet against press freedom, but the King's men have signaled that that could be coming if sectarianism threatens the peace.

11.(C) Despite these tensions, in post's view Bahrain's leaders, as well as the most influential leaders in the Shi'a community, remain committed to political reform and non-violent politics.

12.(U) Bahrain, while lacking the oil wealth of its neighbors, is benefiting from the regional boom, and has enjoyed five years of real GDP growth in excess of six percent annually. Following the August, 2006 signing of the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, bilateral trade grew by ten percent in 2007 and is on pace to do so again in 2008. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** HENZEL

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