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U.S. delays arms sale to Bahrain amid 'Arab Spring' crackdown

October 19, 2011 |  4:17 pm

Bahrain

REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has agreed to delay a $53-million arms sale to Bahrain, a victory for lawmakers and human rights groups opposing the transfer because of the kingdom’s continuing crackdown on its opposition.

The administration said it would postpone the deal while it weighed whether the monarchy was doing enough to investigate alleged human rights abuses and carry out political reforms.

David Adams, the assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs, wrote Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that the State Department would "assess the government of Bahrain’s effort to implement the recommendations and make needed reforms."

The weapons included more than 40 armored Humvee military vehicles and 300 missiles.

The Obama administration has been quietly pressing the kingdom to share more power with its Shiite majority, while trying to avoid any damage to the vital U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh strongly supports the Bahraini monarchy and wants to preserve the status quo threatened by the protests that broke out this spring.

U.S. officials have publicly put their faith in the kingdom’s promises of a political dialogue, and an independent commission organized in July to look into alleged human rights abuses. But human rights advocates and some lawmakers have seen little progress from the political discussions and are skeptical that the investigative commission will find much fault with the government.

They say that Bahrain would take a U.S. arms sale as a sign that Washington approves of its handling of the confrontation with activists.

"As long as the Bahraini government and its security forces are using violence, unjust military trials and alleged torture against peaceful protesters, the U.S. government should not be sending more weapons there," said Sanjeev Bery of Amnesty International.

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-- Paul Richter

Photo: Bahraini lawyers Reem Khalaf, left, and Hanan Aradi hold a news conference in Manama, Bahrain, on Wednesday. The lawyers are representing 20 pro-reform protesters, including 16 women, set to be sentenced Friday on charges of taking part in a protest inside a shopping mall. Credit: Mazen Mahdi / European Pressphoto Agency

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