President Obama met with the crown prince of Bahrain on Tuesday and urged to carry out political and economic reforms, and pressed him to investigate alleged abuses after a February crackdown on dissenters earned Bahrain international condemnation.
When protestors took to the streets of Bahrain in February, emboldened by similar movements in Tunisia and Egypt, the government responded with a swift and brutal crackdown. But the United States was constrained in its ability to respond, given Bahrain's strategic importance: the 5th Fleet is harbored in Bahrain, and its monarch is a U.S. ally who is seen as a counterweight to Iran. When Saudi Arabia dispatched troops to Bahrain in an attempt to quell the protest the U.S. was largely silent, and for similar reasons -- the Saudis were also acting to limit Iranian influence, given Bahrain's Shiite majority, and to back its Sunni ruling family.
Yesterday, Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton held separate private meetings with Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa pressing him to investigate human rights abuses by Bahrain's security forces. After the meeting with Clinton Salman stated his commitment to reform in both the political and economic spheres.
Bahrain began a trial this week against 46 doctors and nurses who are accused of treason for helping to treat wounded protestors. In March four activists were sentenced to death by firing squad, a decision that human rights groups said resulted from a rigged trial aimed at political retribution.