Trump Drops Human Rights Demand in Bid to Sell Bahrain F-16 Jets (excerpt)
(Source: Bloomberg News; posted March 29, 2017)
by Anthony Capaccio
Bahrain originally requested an upgrade of its present fleet of earlier F-16s, but the deal that will now go through apparently only includes 19 new-build aircraft. (RBAF photo)
The U.S. State Department told Congress it backs the sale of 19 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighters to Bahrain without preconditions on improved human rights previously demanded by the Obama administration, according to two people familiar with the proposal.
The request of support for the sale of up to $2.7 billion in jets doesn’t include a package to upgrade older F-16s, which officials said last year could bring the proposal to as much as $4 billion, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Wednesday’s request triggers a roughly three-week informal notification period that will be followed by a formal, publicly released document that Congress has 30 days to approve.
The decision highlights the Trump administration’s outreach to traditional Gulf Arab allies, which the White House sees as a bulwark against Iranian expansion and a partner in the fight against terrorism. Trump met last week with Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince in Washington, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met U.A.E. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
The notice also came the same day the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Army General Joseph Votel, told a House committee that foreign arms sales to allies shouldn’t be burdened with preconditions tied to human rights because they could damage military-to-military ties. Votel, who heads the U.S. Central Command, singled out Bahrain as an example.
‘Strain Our Relationship’
“While we have historically enjoyed a strong mil-to-mil relationship with our Bahraini counterparts, the slow progress on key FMS cases, specifically additional F-16 aircraft and upgrades to Bahrain’s existing F-16 fleet, due to concerns of potential human rights abuses in the country, continues to strain our relationship,” Votel said in prepared testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, referring to the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales program. (end of excerpt)
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U.S. Plans to Pursue Once-Delayed F-16 Jet Sale to Bahrain
(Source: Radio Free Europe; issued March 30, 2017)
The Trump administration has informed Congress it plans to go through with the sale of 19 Lockheed Martin F-16 aircraft and related equipment to Bahrain, dropping human rights conditions placed on the deal by the Obama administration.
The office of Senator Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) on March 29 said the Foreign Relations Committee was notified by the State Department that the Trump administration intends to approve the sale to the U.S. ally.
The Senate can review the deal and could still vote to block the transaction, although with a Republican majority, that is unlikely.
The State Department originally notified Congress of the planned $4.87 billion sale last September during the Obama administration. But it was pulled back because of the Obama administration's concerns that Bahrain had not made promised progress on human rights matters.
The decision by the new administration signals its backing for Sunni-led countries as counterweights to Shi'ite Iran's influence in the region.
Brian Dooley of Washington-based Human Rights First said separating the sale of the warplanes from human rights requirements would "encourage further repression" and create instability in Bahrain.
"The sale will send exactly the wrong signal to the dictatorship: that the White House thinks the political crackdown is not just morally acceptable but also not dangerous, when in fact it's what's fueling the country's instability," Dooley said.
Corker, however, said there are "more effective ways to seek changes in partner policies" than putting public conditions on the sale of weapons.
Along with the jets, the sale includes 23 engines, radars, and other avionics; air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance; and related equipment.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has been hit by unrest since March 2011, when authorities put down a month of Shi'ite-led protests demanding democratic reforms.
Its majority Shi’ite population has complained of being marginalized by ruling Sunni authorities.
Bahrain is a strategic U.S. ally and home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.