By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States told Saudi Arabia that military force is not the answer to unrest in Bahrain, a day after the conservative kingdom sent 1,000 of its soldiers to the its fellow Sunni-ruled neighbor.
Washington dispatched a top diplomat to the Gulf Arab state to try to bring about talks between its government and opposition. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman arrived in Bahrain on Monday, U.S. officials said, a day before Bahrain declared martial law following weeks of protest by the country's Shi'ite Muslim majority.
Feltman was urging all sides to act responsibly and allow a credible dialogue to take place, the White House said. He ended another visit to Bahrain earlier this month.
Jay Carney, President Barack Obama's press secretary, noted that the foreign troops were invited by Bahrain's government, but said the White House believes there is no military solution to unrest in Bahrain or elsewhere in the region.
"We urge the parties involved here, and the governments involved, to engage in the political dialogue that is necessary to respond to the grievances and desires of the people of Bahrain, and that's a call that we made to other governments in the region as well," Carney said at a daily news briefing.
Riyadh sent troops to Bahrain to help restore calm after weeks of protests by Shi'ites in the island kingdom that is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. Analysts saw the troop movement as a mark of concern that concessions by Bahrain's monarchy could inspire unrest among Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite minority.
On Tuesday, Bahrain declared a three-month state of emergency handing wholesale power to its security forces, which are dominated by the Sunni elite, stoking tensions in one of the Gulf's most politically volatile nations.
The United States, a close ally of both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, has been cautious in its response to the deployment.
Close Saudi-U.S. ties anchor stability in the oil-rich Gulf, where Saudi Arabia provides 12 percent of U.S. crude imports and serves as a powerful regional counterweight to Shi'ite-ruled Iran, a defiant U.S. foe.
The White House repeated its call for calm and restraint by all sides. In a sign of tensions, a hospital source in Bahrain said two men were killed and more than 200 wounded in clashes on Tuesday.
Bahraini Shi'ites -- more than 60 percent of the population -- complain of discrimination at the hands of the Sunni royal family.
U.S. officials have voiced concern that the unrest could serve Iran. Tehran said on Tuesday that the deployment of foreign troops in Bahrain could pitch the region toward a crisis with "dangerous consequences."
John Kerry, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he saw the Saudi intervention as an attempt to create a framework for dialogue and reform.
"They are not looking for violence in the streets," he said. "...They would like to encourage the king and others to engage in reforms and a dialogue. What they are trying to do is create a framework in which that can take place."
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Andrew Quinn; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Cynthia Osterman)