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Cablegate: King Hamad's Domestic Agenda

VZCZCXYZ0418
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMK #0730 3561242
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 221242Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9119
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000730

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/02/2019
TAGS: PGOV ECON ENRG KNNP KDEM BA
SUBJECT: KING HAMAD'S DOMESTIC AGENDA

REF: A. 08 MANAMA 702 AND PREVIOUS
B. MANAMA 647
C. MANAMA 660

Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(C) Summary: Speaking on the tenth anniversary of his accession to the throne, the King outlined his domestic agenda for the coming year. His primary areas of focus - energy, economic development, and continued commitment to democratic reforms - present opportunities to expand U.S. engagement and influence in Bahrain. End summary.

2.(U) King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa addressed Bahrainis December 17 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his accession to the throne. He focused on domestic priorities: energy, economic development, and continued commitment to the reform process begun in 2000. While these are familiar themes and have not provoked significant reaction from political observers, they do provide a succinct summary of the King's priorities.

3.(U) "Economic development tops our agenda," proclaimed the King. He pledged that Bahrain would provide decent housing for all its citizens, provide improved education and infrastructure, and tighten financial and administrative controls through greater transparency. He reiterated his commitment to the GOB's Vision 2030 economic development plan spearheaded by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The plan aims to improve the living standards of all Bahrainis through economic modernization, labor reforms, and providing job training to Bahrainis with a view toward reducing the country's dependence on foreign labor.

4.(C) King Hamad noted that economic development required expanded energy resources, and committed himself to securing the energy needed to grow the Bahraini economy. (Note: The government has been involved in slow-rolling talks with Tehran for the past two years on purchasing cheap Iranian natural gas, after the GOB failed to obtain deals with Saudi Arabia or Qatar. Bahraini officials have said privately that the Iranian talks are intended to influence the Saudis and Qataris, and that they strongly prefer not to purchase Iranian gas (ref A). Earlier this year, the GOB signed a joint venture agreement with Occidental and Abu Dhabi's Mubadala to rejuvenate the onshore Awali field in hopes of increasing production to 80,000 bpd over the next five years. The GOB has also expressed interest in nuclear energy, depositing its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA and beginning work on an Additional Protocol (ref B). A State-Department of Energy team will visit Manama in January to discuss a possible 123 Agreeme nt that would open the way for U.S. companies should Bahrain decide to proceed with a full-fledged nuclear energy program. End note.)

5.(U) Finally, King Hamad emphasized his commitment to "national unity" by highlighting the achievements over the past ten years under the 2002 National Action Charter, which became Bahrain's constitution, and the establishment of democratic institutions such as the parliament and constitutional court. He said that "societies cannot move forward without law, and our constitution is the cornerstone of the law and our National Assembly is its umbrella and fortress." Bahrain is nearing the end of its second parliament since the body was restored in 2002 and will hold parliamentary elections in late 2010 (ref C).

6.(C) Comment: King Hamad's agenda is ambitious and presents us with numerous opportunities to expand ongoing cooperation. MEPI currently funds projects through the American Bar Association, the Commercial Law Development Program, and the National Democratic Institute that are helping the government implement judicial reforms, modernize commercial law, and provide training for members of parliament and their staffs. This is in addition to numerous MEPI small grant programs that address a wide range of issue areas. U.S. companies will also be well positioned, given the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, to exploit the opportunities provided by the government's plans to expand investment in infrastructure and energy. ERELI

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