U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Iran on Saturday to stop meddling in Bahrain and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf, but also called on the kingdom's leaders not to use force against anti-government protesters.
Clinton said the United States "has an abiding commitment to Gulf security" and that "a top priority is working together with our partners on our shared concerns about Iranian behavior in the region."
"We share the view that Iran's activities in the Gulf, including its efforts to advance its agenda in neighboring countries, undermines peace and stability," she told reporters after an international conference on the crisis in Libya. At that meeting, she met with numerous Arab officials who complained that Iran was fomenting unrest Bahrain and elsewhere.
Bahrain's Sunni minority monarchy is facing growing opposition from the Shiite-majority population and has called in security forces from neighboring Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to deal with escalating protests.
Clinton said Bahrain had a "sovereign right" to ask for such assistance, but she said violence was not the way to deal with the situation.
"Security alone cannot resolve the challenges facing Bahrain," she said. "Violence is not and cannot be the answer. A political process is."
She said all Bahrainis should join a national dialogue proposed by the country's crown prince and allow that process to "unfold in a peaceful positive atmosphere that protects the freedom of peaceful assembly."
The Gulf force underscores the deep worries about Bahrain's stability among the region's Sunni kings and sheiks. They fear any stumble by Bahrain's leaders could embolden more challenges to their own regimes and possibly open room for Shiite heavyweight Iran to make political inroads.
The U.S., which counts Bahrain as a centerpiece of its Gulf military framework, has sent top envoys to meet with the embattled monarchy and has been criticized by Shiite opposition groups for not coming to their support. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which is the Pentagon's main regional counterweight to Iran's growing military powers.
On Friday, officials wiped away a main symbol of the uprising. Cranes pulled down the 300-foot (90-meter) monument at the heart of a landmark square that has been occupied by protesters and the scene of deadly confrontations.
Security forces overran the camp on Wednesday, setting off clashes that killed at least five people, including two policemen. At least 12 people have been killed in the monthlong revolt.