WASHINGTON, Dec 9 (Reuters) - The United States commended Bahrain on Friday for moving quickly to implement steps toward political reconciliation and said it was sending its chief human rights official to the island nation for further talks.
Washington has said a pending $53 million arms sale to Bahrain will hinge partly on the Gulf monarchy halting abuses inflicted on protesters in February and March and outlined in a report by a government-appointed fact-finding commission of international lawyers.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States was pleased by Bahrain’s deal with the International Committee of the Red Cross to develop more responsible police work and its decision to halt the trial proceedings of more than 100 athletes charged in connection with the protests.
“We call on all parties in Bahrain to create and support a climate conducive to reconciliation,” Nuland said, urging Bahrain to act swiftly on other recommendations from the commission.
Nuland said the State Department’s chief human rights official, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, would travel to Bahrain next week “to continue our human rights dialogue.”
Inspired by “Arab Spring” revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of mainly Shi‘ite Bahrainis took to the streets in February and March demanding political change to limit the power of the ruling Sunni Muslim Al-Khalifa family.
The protest wave was forcibly put down with the help of military forces brought in from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet.
Bahrain has hired U.S. and British police chiefs to lead reform efforts within security agencies and established a committee to look into the commission’s recommendations.
But there has been no progress in talks between the government and opposition groups on political reforms and the Gulf Arab island state remains tense, with daily clashes between riot police and Shi‘ite protesters.
The United States in October said it was delaying the planned arms sale to Bahrain -- designated as a “major non-NATO ally” and a frontline state amid rising regional tensions over nearby Iran -- pending the outcome of the commission report and the government’s response to it.
At stake is the proposed U.S. supply of 44 “Humvee” armored vehicles and several hundred TOW missiles along with associated equipment and support. (Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Anthony Boadle)