Dubai: US President Barack Obama called for “meaningful reform” and respect for universal rights in Bahrain on Wednesday, during talks with Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa at the White House.
Obama dropped by US deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken’s meeting with Prince Salman, and stressed the importance of the US partnership in Bahrain and reiterated Washington’s support for the kingdom’s stability and security.
The US president voiced “firm support” for the ongoing national dialogue in Bahrain and added that he would continue to encourage all sides to “engage constructively” to achieve progress.
Prince Salman, in Washington following an official visit to Canada, said that the national dialogue reflected a keen interest in achieving positive results for the nation despite major challenges, including continued street violence. Prince Salman was recently named Bahrain’s first deputy prime minister.
“The president emphasised US support for Bahrain’s stability and security,” National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
Obama also stressed that “meaningful reform, dialogue and respect for universal human rights is the best path to achieving the peace and security that all Bahraini citizens deserve,” Hayden said.
Bahrain’s national dialogue was launched on February 10 in a bid to break a political impasse that set in since the country witnessed mass unrest in February and March 2011. Two political coalitions, including the opposition, the parliament and the government are represented by delegates at the talks.
However, four months later, the 27 participants have been unable to agree on the agenda for the dialogue and the 20 rounds of discussions held so far have been devoted, with varying degrees of success, to reaching a consensus on the structure, platform and outcome of the talks.
The opposition has called for a representative of the king to be involved in the talks, a request that has been turned down by the royal court after it said in a statement that King Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Eisa stood equidistant from all parties.
The opposition has also been pressing for a fair representation at the talks, arguing that its eight delegates were pitted against eight delegates from Al Fateh Coalition, eight independent parliamentarians and three government ministers.
The complaint has however been dismissed by the other three parties to the talks.
“It is obvious that they do not want any representative from the people,” said MP Latifa Al Gaood, one of the parliamentarians at the talks. “We are not affiliated with any political group and we do represent the people, so there is no reason to set us aside,” she said.
On Wednesday evening, Jameel Kadhem, the spokesperson for the coalition of the opposition, said that they insisted on addressing the issue of a fair representation at the talks.
“The other parties wanted us to move to the agenda, but we insisted on the fair representation,” he said in the evening following the session. “We will not move away from the fair representation point until there is a breakthrough. A confidence-building measure would be to release the prisoners,” he said, referring to several figures sentenced to life in prison on charges of plotting to overthrow the regime with violent means.
However, Ahmad Juma, the spokesperson for Al Fateh Coalition, charged that the opposition was stalling the dialogue by “including issues that are not related to the talks”.
“They called, for instance, for the release of the detainees, and we explained to them that they were not political prisoners,” he said. “We insisted that they were jailed on charges decided by the court and that the issue was not related to the dialogue. We too can, in that case, bring in other issues such as the recent attack on policemen in Bani Jamra and other acts of terror,” he said, referring to last week’s road explosion that injured seven uniformed men in a village west of Manama.
- With inputs from AFP and Habib Toumi, Bahrain Bureau Chief