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State Dept. Provides Little Detail On Arms Sale To Bahrain

State Dept. Provides Little Detail On Arms Sale To Bahrain
5/12/2012 12:59 PM ET

In a conference call with reporters Friday, three State Department senior officials announced the U.S. would be re-starting the sale of some arms to the Bahraini government, without detailing the exact items to be sold or their value.

"In light of our own U.S. national security interests, the United States has decided...to release additional items and services for the Bahraini Defense Forces, Bahrain's Coast Guard, and Bahrain's National Guard. And the purpose of this is to help Bahrain maintain its external defense capabilities," the first senior administration official to speak said.

The official added not all arms are back on the table for resale. The articles to be sold would not include crowd control articles that could be used on peaceful protesters inside the Persian Gulf kingdom. "That would include things like tear gas, tear gas launchers, stun grenades - those sorts of things," the official clarified. The U.S. put a pause on arms sales in mid-2011 as protests and police violence increased in the small oil-rich Gulf state.

But the officials said they could provide even a partial list of the items under negotiation, saying "we're not prepared to outline an exhaustive list of what we will or will not allow to be supplied" as ongoing conversations with the Bahrainis and Congress continue. Frigates, harbor security vessels and F-16 engine fans are possible items, the official said, without confirming if they were indeed on the list.

The officials also couldn't detail the value of said arms, saying "a lot of these are licenses that would require a negotiation between the buyer and seller over the amount and what will be included."

Reporters on the call soon became exasperated with the lack of information about the sale, turning questions to the human rights situation on the ground and whether the sale could exacerbate excessive force by police. One administration official on the call condemned the violence on both sides and reiterated the U.S. position that it was unacceptable for either police or protesters to resort to violence.

The official also reiterated to reporters the decision was made with U.S. national security interests in mind. However, the official could not confirm if this meant a specific regional threat which this sale could combat has emerged in recent days or weeks.

"[The sale] is linked to our desire to help the Bahrainis maintain their external defense capabilities, and the determination that it's in the U.S. national security interest to let these things go forward at this point," an official said.

Gulf state watchers believe the restart decision and announcement came as a result of the Bahrain Crown Prince's visit to Washington this week. While in the capital, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

by RTT Staff Writer

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