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Bahrain - U.S Relations

As the smallest Gulf state, Bahrain has historically needed closer security ties with a western patron than any of its neighbors. As a result, the U.S. Navy has had a presence here since the closing days of the Second World War. Bahrain's strategic partnership with the U.S. has intensified since 1991. Bahraini pilots flew strikes in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, and the country was used as a base for military operations in the Gulf. Bahrain also provided logistical and basing support to international Maritime Interdiction efforts to enforce UN sanctions and prevent illegal smuggling of oil from Iraq in the 1990s. Bahrain also provided extensive basing and overflight clearances for a multitude of U.S. aircraft operating in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Bahrain also deployed forces in support of coalition operations during both OEF and OIF.

Bahrain has delivered humanitarian support and technical training to support the reconstruction of the Iraqi banking sector, and has offered support for each stage of Iraq's political transformation. Bahrain has also cooperated effectively on criminal investigation issues in support of the campaign on terrorism; the Bahrain Monetary Agency (which became the Central Bank of Bahrain in September 2006) moved quickly to restrict terrorists' ability to transfer funds through Bahrain's financial system. In October 2006, Bahrain joined the U.S. and 23 other countries in a Proliferation Security Initiative interdiction exercise in the Persian Gulf.

The American Mission Hospital, affiliated with the National Evangelical Church, has operated continuously in Bahrain for more than a century. Bahrain has also been a base for U.S. naval activity in the Gulf since 1947. When Bahrain became independent, the U.S.-Bahrain relationship was formalized with the establishment of diplomatic relations. The U.S. embassy at Manama was opened September 21, 1971, and a resident ambassador was sent in 1974. The Bahraini embassy in Washington, DC, opened in 1977. In October 1991, Amir Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa made a state visit to Washington. In 2001, Amir Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa made his first visit to the U.S. after succeeding his father in 1999. He returned to Washington on an official visit in January 2003. King Hamad made an official visit to Washington in November 2004 to meet with President George W. Bush and cabinet-level officials. In January 2008, President Bush made the first visit by a sitting President to Bahrain. King Hamad visited Washington in March 2008.

Bahrain and the United States signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement in October 1991 granting U.S. forces access to Bahraini facilities and ensuring the right to pre-position material for future crises. Bahrain is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

The U.S. designated Bahrain a Major Non-NATO Ally in October 2001. Bahrain and the United States signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

Bahrain was one of the first Gulf states to reopen its embassy in Baghdad, and, while wary of the Maliki government, has reached out to Iraq politically and economically. Bahraini airlines now fly regularly to several Iraqi cities. The King has established a relationship with Sayyid Ammar Al Hakim, chairman of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq. During Hakim's recent visit to Bahrain, King Hamad asked for his support in channeling the energies of Bahraini Shia in a positive direction, and told Hakim that he would do what he could to get the Saudis to engage with Iraq. Bahrain maintains correct relations with Iran, but has no illusions about the threat it poses to the region. Bahrain quietly supports international pressure on Iran, and consulting with the leadership will ensure that we maintain that support.

The 2004 withdrawal of U.S. Navy dependents represented the nadir in US counterterrorism relationship. Since then, the government has enacted a tough, new CT law and has used it to obtain several convictions against Al Qaeda financiers and facilitators. Much of that success is connected to the King's installation of new, more capable leadership at both the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the Bahrain National Security Agency (BNSA) in 2006 and 2008, respectively. BNSA routinely shares high-quality intel and seeks out joint operations opportunities. MOI has proven itself highly capable of maintaining internal security. The U.S. is contributing to the CT mission through the provision of a coastal radar system via Section 1206 funding that will give Bahrain (and the U.S. Navy) a 360 degree field of vision around the island.

Bahrain's national security strategy rests squarely on the presence of NAVCENT/Fifth Fleet headquarters and Bahrain's close security partnership with the U.S. Unlike its Gulf neighbors, Bahrain does not enjoy the kind of oil revenues that might enable it to buy advanced weaponry on its own. U.S. foreign military financing for Bahrain in 2008 was only $3.9 million.

The top security priority for Bahrain's leadership is missile defense. King Hamad told Secretary Gates on 26 March 2008 that Bahrain had assessed the need for several complete Patriot batteries to cover the island. He said that that he hoped the U.S. would provide one, while Bahrain would buy or lease others (though this would be a stretch for Bahrain's budget.) A Patriot firing unit temporarily deployed to Bahrain in May 2008 as part of the annual GCC military exercise Eagle Resolve, and most of its equipment remained there in storage. OSD examined a number of options for providing a longer-term solution, including re-deployment to the region of Patriot units currently based elsewhere, as well as the periodic deployment of SM-2 and SM-3 equipped AEGIS cruisers.

DoD has launched a number of initiatives to develop multilateral air and maritime defense capabilities. In February, NAVCENT hosted a Maritime Infrastructure Symposium which was attended by representatives from the GCC and some NATO countries. On 22-23 June, the Commander of Air Force Central Command, LTG North, met in Bahrain with Air Chiefs from the GCC plus Jordan to develop a way ahead for shared early warning and regional, mutual air defense.

The dependents of the NAVCENT personnel in Bahrain were sent home in summer 2004 in reaction to what DoD viewed as an inadequate GOB response to the discovery of a potentially violent group of Sunni extremists on the island. The Embassy's assessment differed and its dependents remained. Since then, the GOB has improved its counter-terrorism performance, and both NAVCENT and the Embassy have been advocating for the return of Navy dependents. 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 have traditionally sent children to the DoD Bahrain School -- for his strategy of alignment with the U.S. The Crown Prince is, himself, a graduate of the Bahrain School; his eldest son graduated from the school in June, and another son is still attending.

On 26 March 2008, the U.S. and Bahrain signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Energy Cooperation, as well as a statement of support for the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Bahrain has also been invited to participate in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

King Hamad is committed to fighting corruption and prefers doing business with American firms because they are transparent. U.S. companies have won major contracts in the past two years, including: Gulf Air's purchase of 24 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, a USD 5 billion joint-venture with Occidental Petroleum to revitalize the Awali field, and well over USD 300 million in Foreign Military Sales.

Page last modified: 30-06-2021 17:42:10 Zulu