Bahrain FM: Trump understands Middle East and Iran threats better than Obama

Just days after reports suggested the US would lift human rights conditions on an arms deal with Bahrain, the Gulf kingdom said Donald Trump understands the region ‘better’ than Obama.

US President Donald Trump understands the Middle East and the alleged threats it faces from Iran better than his predecessor Barack Obama, Bahrain’s foreign minister claimed on Tuesday.

The US leader, who has repeatedly criticised a historic nuclear deal with Tehran and has made no effort to shield his view toward the Islamic Republic, has a clearer view of the region, according to Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa.

“We see … a much clearer understanding from the White House of the threats we are facing here in the region and especially the ones that are coming from the Islamic Republic,” Sheikh Khaled told Reuters in an interview.

“The last few years, there was a policy that we think it was better for them to correct, and we advised them it should be corrected.”

Bahrain, which has crushed a domestic uprising following the Arab Spring in 2011, like a number of its Arab neighbours, has long-accused Iran of meddling in its affairs – allegations Iran strongly denies.

Easier arms

The comments come just days after the New York Times reported that the US plans to lift human rights conditions previously imposed on a billion-dollar arms sale to Bahrain agreed under the Obama administration.

The sale of the 19 Lockheed Martin aircraft, and related equipment, had previously been held up due to concerns over human rights abuses in the Gulf kingdom – a key US ally in the region and the host of a major American naval base.

Arab states in the Gulf often cite a perceived threat from Iran as a driving force behind their weapons imports, and a reason for their suppliers to justify the sales, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

In February, an anonymous US official told right-wing newspaper The Washington Times that the Trump administration was set to approve stalled weapons transfers to both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

“These are significant sales for key allies in the Gulf who are facing the threat from Iran and who can contribute to the fight against the Islamic State,” the official said.

“Whereas the Obama administration held back on these, they’re now in the new administration’s court for a decision – and I would anticipate the decision will be to move forward.”

Bahrain has been repeatedly criticised for its problematic human rights record, including by a 2016 US State Department report that detailed “serious human rights problems” in the country.

These included citizens’ limited ability to peacefully choose their own government and the arrest and imprisonment without warrants or charges, “especially in cases against opposition members and political or human rights activists”, the report found.

Human Rights Watch also said Bahraini courts “convict and imprison peaceful dissenters and have failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations”.