WASHINGTON — Bahrain must carry out political reforms immediately, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in comments aired on Sunday in which she blasted any violence by the Gulf kingdom’s security forces as unacceptable .
“Bahrain had started on some reform and we want to see them get back to that as quickly as possible,” Clinton told ABC’s “This Week” program.
Washington has insisted that oil-rich Bahrain, a small but strategic US ally in the Gulf region, begin carrying out meaningful reforms.
But Clinton insisted President Barack Obama’s administration was not interfering in the kingdom’s internal affairs, stressing that Washington “cannot tell countries what they are going to do.”
And yet she firmly stated that violence against anti-regime protesters “is absolutely unacceptable”.
“We very much want to see the human rights of the people protected, including right to assemble, right to express themselves, and we want to see reform,” she said in an interview conducted on Friday.
Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has offered to open a sweeping national dialogue between the Sunni-ruled monarchy and Shiite-led opposition, after a deadly police raid on Pearl Square on Thursday, which was followed by army deployment in the streets of Manama to quell the protests.
Following further protests on Friday in which dozens of people were wounded by Bahraini police, the crown prince ordered forces to leave the area and stay away from demonstrators.
Bahrain is of vital strategic importance to Washington because the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based there and some 40 percent of the world’s oil passes through the Gulf.
Obama’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon spoke by telephone with the crown prince on Saturday, urging him to respect human rights and launch “meaningful” reform, the White House said.
The wave of unrest spreading across the Middle East and North Africa is testing the underpinnings of US policy, which for decades has seen Washington side with rulers who kept a lid on dissent but provided relative geopolitical stability.
Clinton insisted the Obama administration was not meddling.
“We try to hold everyone to a similar standard but we cannot dictate the outcomes,” she said.
“We cannot tell countries what they are going to do. We had no control over what happened in Egypt,” Clinton added, referring to the people power revolt that ousted longtime president — and US regional ally — Hosni Mubarak.