By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said the secretary believed it was important to engage with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa about the situation in
and elsewhere in the region. Bahrain
Gates has two messages, Morrell said: “A reassurance of our support, as well as encouragement of the national dialogue, which is in its nascent stages now.”
This visit will see the secretary, as the first U.S. Cabinet member to visit the kingdom since protests began, in more of a diplomatic role than on previous visits, the press secretary noted.
“These are … clearly political issues,” Morrell said. “But [Gates is] very much looking forward to the opportunity to convey these messages on behalf of the
government.” United States
Morrell said Gates will return to
after this visit, completing a week that took the secretary to several locations in Washington , as well as to Afghanistan , and Stuttgart, Germany . Brussels, Belgium
“The secretary wishes to and is planning to call upon other governments in this region in the weeks ahead, and will have similar discussion with their leadership as well,” Morrell said.
A senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters en route to Bahrain the country is an important strategic partner, both as home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and as an important regional balance to Iran.
A stream of protests has been under way in
since mid-February, with more planned for today, the official said. Opposition leaders are Shiia Muslims, as is 70 percent of Bahrain ’s population, the official added. Bahrain ’s royal family and the remaining population are Sunni Muslims. Bahrain
Opposition leaders have not yet listed their conditions for a national dialogue, but the
anticipates progress toward that end soon, the official said. United States
Gates is in
not to take sides, the official said, but to urge a methodical and substantive reform process. The secretary will “encourage the national dialogue, which the crown prince is heading up, and also encourage the royal family to come into a genuine process for reform,” the official added. Bahrain
message to friends and allies is, “All of the … deep strategic interests we have with them remain the same as they were six months ago,” the official said. “But one of those interests is … stability.” U.S.
have been largely peaceful, but Bahrain government leaders are closely monitoring events, the official said. U.S.
Gates’ position in
is consistent with the Bahrain approach to unrest in the region, the official said. U.S.
“Where we’ve been consistent in all these places – Tunisia, Egypt, now Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere –- is standing up for the universal principles -- freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of access to information, [and] a commitment by all sides to nonviolence,” the official said.