To little fanfare, President Barack Obama met yesterday with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain in the White House. As the Wall Street Journal says, the meeting lasted for only 15 minutes and was not put on the President’s official schedule.
Bahraini human rights activists criticized the White House’s meeting with the Crown Prince, noting that it could “provide political cover for the ruling Khalifa family to continue its crackdown” against pro-democracy protesters. Just two days ago, 23 doctors and 24 nurses who treated pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain were charged with “attempting to topple the king’s monarchy” in a military court behind closed doors. There have been reports of protesters being tortured while in detention; some protesters have been given the death penalty or long prison sentences.
Prince Salman has been seen by the Obama administration as “the senior Bahraini government official most in favor of liberalizing Manama’s political system.” His political position has weakened following the anti-government protests that started in March in Bahrain.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also met separately with Prince Salman after which she stated:
Bahrain is a partner, and a very important one, to the United States, and we are supportive of a national dialogue and the kinds of important work that the Crown Prince has been doing in his nation, and we look forward to it continuing.
Prince Salman responded:
I have the honor to be here as a representative of my country during this challenging time. It is a great test, but also a great opportunity to drive the nation forward. We are committed to reform in both the political and economic spheres, and I would like to reiterate that support and to find out ways in which we can work closely with our very important ally, the United States, in making it happen, because I personally feel, and I think many do, that this is in the interests of both our nations.
Obama’s meeting with the Prince was said to be “productive.” The White House issued a statement emphasizing that “to create the conditions for a successful dialogue,” Obama underlined the “importance of following through on the government’s commitment to ensuring that those responsible for human-rights abuses will be held accountable.”
Al Jazeera reports that the reinstated Formula One Grand Prix race that was rescheduled for October 30 will not be held, due to “opposition from teams.” Human rights activists had waged a huge campaign to have the race cancelled, with an online petition at Avaaz. The October 30 date had been originally assigned to India, whose race had been pushed ahead to December; the teams noted that they had “already booked flights while sponsors have arranged high-profile events around the October race in New Delhi.”
No photographs were taken of Obama’s and Prince Salman’s meeting, a sign, says the Wall Street Journal of how “skittish Washington is about appearing too close to Manama as Mr. Obama seeks to use his administration’s diplomatic and financial muscle” to help support the causes of the pro-democracy activists in Bahrain and other Arab nations.
Take Action: Sign the petition to call for the release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and other peaceful protestors!
Previous Care2 Coverage
Photo of the Pearl Roundabout -- where Bahraini protesters assembled after the uprising in Egypt and which was demolished on March 18 by the government -- by Harold Laudeus.