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Cablegate: Bahrain's King Hamad Concerned About Qatar, Gcc


DE RUEHMK #0026/01 0181258
P 181258Z JAN 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000026


E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/18/2020

REF: A. 09 MANAMA 647
B. 09 MANAMA 600

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

1.(C) SUMMARY: King Hamad of Bahrain expressed concern about Qatari policy toward Iran and al Qaeda in an hour-long conversation with the Ambassador. He spoke of strong disagreements among GCC leaders during their December summit in Kuwait, which troubled him. He said his focus would be to "look after" the unity and stability of the GCC and he urged close consultations with the United States as part of this effort. End Summary.

2.(C) King Hamad bin Issa al Khalifa summoned the Ambassador to his residence at Safriya Palace on Tuesday, January 12.In attendance, in addition to the Ambassador and King, were Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa and Minister of the Royal Court Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa (same name). King Hamad began by noting that developments in the region were moving quickly, citing Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran. He said that how they are managed has serious implications for Bahrain, the region and the United States. "We are involved," he concluded, "and as allies, we should deal with these issues together." He said he appreciated the regular visits paid by CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus and hoped that we could expand our level of information exchange and consultations with him.

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3.(C) The King brought up the subject of last December's GCC Summit in Kuwait. He said he had been alarmed by Qatar's positions toward Iran and al Qaeda. "Nobody should be confused on our position toward Iran," he told his fellow heads of state in Kuwait. He mentioned reports that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were assigning military attaches in some GCC states, and asked pointedly if that were true. According to the King, all eyes turned to Qatari Amir Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, who offered no response. "We need to be clear about the threat," King Hamad concluded, "and know who you are with." (Note: Ever since a visit to Iran by Qatar's Chief of Defense Staff Hamad al Attiyah last fall, the GOB has been hyperventilating about reports of closer Qatari-Iranian military cooperation. They base this on statements purportedly made during the visit that Iran and Qatar would hold joint exercises and exchange military personnel in the future. End Note.)

4.(C) On al Qaeda, King Hamad said that Amir Hamad made the point during the summit that, "I need to be in touch with them." The Qatari Amir argued that this was the best defense against the threat that al Qaeda posed, according to King Hamad. The other Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, were aghast. King Abdullah reportedly retorted, "Are you mad?" King Hamad said that he warned of the dangers ofappeasing terrorists and alienating friends and llies. When the Ambassador asked King Hamad whathe thought the Qatari Amir meant by "in touch," he Royal Court Minister interjected, "Al Jazeera"

5.(C) King Hamad concluded that the "unity an stability" of the GCC was his priority: "I needto maintain equilibrium among GCC members and maage Qatar, and I need your support." He added that of all the GCC leaders, he is the only one who every year travels to meet personally with each of his counterparts and that it was this type of personal diplomacy which he intended to intensify.

6.(C) The Ambassador affirmed Bahrain's importance to the United States as an ally in the war on terror and a partner in regional security cooperation, making particular mention of its contributions to Afghanistan, counter-piracy and counter-terror. He also agreed that a more unified GCC was worth striving for. Noting that he and the King saw each other regularly, that the Foreign Minister had close and ongoing consultations with the senior levels of the U.S. Government, and that a revamped, more policy-oriented Gulf Security Dialogue would be held in late February, the Ambassador asked the King what he thought we needed to do to improve coordination at the senior levels.

7.(C) "I don't know," he replied. "I may be busier now than in the past, but I used to get more information." He said we need a system and urged the Foreign Minister to meet with Ambassador every two weeks. The Foreign Minister added that he was expecting to meet with Secretary Clinton soon in Washington.

8.(C) Comment: King Hamad takes Bahrain's role as U.S. partner and ally seriously, as evidenced by his unstinting support for the Fifth Fleet/CENTCOM, participation in coalition maritime activity, deployment of a police company to Afghanistan and strong CT cooperation. He believes Bahrain and the region should bear their fair share of the burden in defense of common interests, and based on his comments, he is troubled by the fissures within the GCC undermining this unity of purpose.

9.(C) King Hamad has for some time seen Qatar as a thorn in the sides of Bahrain and the GCC. Bilaterally, Qatar has continued to rebuff Bahraini requests to open negotiations on long-term contracts for North Field gas, which irks King Hamad - first, because Bahrain needs additional energy supply, and second, because it is taken as a personal slight, all the more galling because Qatar is seen as turning its back on a GCC partner in need while at the same time concluding new gas supply contracts with a host of other non-Arabs (China, Mexico, and Britain). Qatar is also the lone hold-out among GCC members blocking the candidacy of Muhamad al Mutawa, a Bahraini, to take over as GCC Secretary General in 2011 (ref b). According to King Hamad, the Qataris told him they oppose Mutawa because they consider him to be the architect of anti-Qatari media campaigns during the Hawar Islands dispute, when he was Minister of Information.

10.(C) Internecine squabbles among GCC members aside, the issues of Iran and energy security are existential ones for Bahrain. Each has the potential to compromise the Kingdom's future viability as a state. They were very much on King Hamad's mind during this meeting, as were the divisions within the GCC that complicate their resolution. He conveyed a sense of frustration and strategic vulnerability. He is looking to the United States, as Bahrain's most important ally, to help him manage these challenges, which we should keep in mind as we plan our engagement with regional leaders in the coming months. End comment. ERELI

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