Obama urged to press Saudis to help end Bahrain crisis

Posted at 03/11/14 6:49 AM

WASHINGTON - A group of rights activists and analysts called on US President Barack Obama Monday to press Saudi Arabia to help end the political crisis in its neighbor Bahrain.

The oil-rich Gulf kingdom has "significant influence" in Bahrain where "lasting stability can only be achieved by genuine reform," the group of almost 30 people wrote in a letter to the American leader.

The group -- including experts from some of Washington's most influential think tanks -- urged Obama to "seek to enlist the Saudis in an approach that can end the political crisis and the violence that afflict Bahrain" during his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia later this month.

"As two of Bahrain's most influential allies, the United States and Saudi Arabia possess a special obligation to pursue stability in the country by promoting reform that meets these demands," the letter said.

"The Bahraini ruling family would be greatly affected by hearing from the king and other Saudi royals that compromise, not repression, is the only path to stability."

In the early days of the Arab Spring, demonstrators in Bahrain from among the Gulf state's Shiite majority sought to institute a constitutional monarchy in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom leading demonstrations that erupted on February 14, 2011.

But Saudi-led Gulf troops were deployed in the country on the eve of a March 2011 crackdown, manning key positions while the tiny kingdom's own security forces dispersed the protesters.

Amnesty International last month condemned Bahrain's "relentless repression" of dissent on the anniversary of the demonstrations.

And the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said at least 89 people have been killed since the uprising broke out three years ago.

Two rounds of national reconciliation talks between the opposition and the government have failed to make any headway on a settlement in the strategic archipelago just across the Gulf from Iran, which is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet.

"Reform and stability can co-exist, and the United States must demonstrate the leadership needed to realize that model in the Gulf," insisted the co-authors of the letter.

Obama is due to leave later this month on a trip that will take him to The Hague, Brussels, Vatican City and Riyadh.