The State Department said Tuesday it will consider a special investigation of alleged human rights abuses in Bahrain before moving ahead with $53 million in arms sales to the violence-wracked nation.
In a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and public statements, the department said it shared congressional concerns about Bahrain's treatment of protesters and would await the results of a special inquiry established by Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. That commission's report to the king is due Oct. 30.
At least 35 people have died since Bahrain's Shiite-led majority began protests in February seeking greater rights from the ruling Sunni monarchy in the strategic nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
"That's something we would look at closely," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said of the commission's report. "We're going to continue to take human rights considerations into account as we move toward the finalization of this deal."
Wyden and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., have introduced a resolution blocking the arms sale, which includes Humvees and missiles. At least a half-dozen senators, including Wyden, have written to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticizing Bahrain's human rights violations and resistance to calls for reform. They have said completing the arms sale would weaken U.S. credibility amid democratic transitions in the Middle East.
David S. Adams, assistant secretary for legislative affairs, wrote Wyden that President Barack Obama and Clinton have spoken publicly about the shared concerns about Bahrain and have urged the government "to hold accountable those who have committed human rights violations, implement needed reforms and engage its citizens and be responsive to their aspirations."
Toner said several procedural steps still remained before the U.S. could deliver the weapons to Bahrain. He noted the sale pertained to equipment for Bahrain's "external defense purposes."