By Angus McDowall
MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain needs to prosecute officials responsible for human rights violations during its Arab Spring protests to make reconciliation with the opposition possible, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor Michael Posner said on Sunday.
Bahrain is an important ally for Washington and hosts the American navy's Fifth Fleet, stationed here as a bulwark against Iran, but activists have accused the U.S. of not pressing the government on concerns over human rights.
Mass protests erupted in February 2011 led by the country's Shi'ite Muslim majority demanding democracy, but were put down by the Sunni ruling family backed by forces from neighboring Saudi Arabia.
"The government can play a leading role in encouraging engagement and discussion of differences and a number of the issues that are ripe for discussion relate to human rights," Posner said in an interview with Reuters in Manama.
Earlier on Sunday the main opposition Al Wefaq group said it welcomed a call made by the crown prince on Friday to renew dialogue nearly two years after the popular uprising.
Posner also said violence on the streets, with young protesters throwing rocks and petrol bombs at police, made the process of negotiation harder.
After it ended mass protests in 2011, Bahrain created an independent commission to look into human rights abuses, which reported last year that torture and other violations had occurred.
Bahrain has not implemented all the recommendations of that commission and is accused by rights activists of continuing to use excessive violence to stop near-daily small anti-government protests.
"While they've complied with a number of the recommendations, there's an unfinished agenda of things, important things, that can and should be pursued. But the focus for us right now is the need for all sides to come to the table and negotiate differences," Posner said.
In a separate press release issued by his office, the assistant secretary of state said the government needed to act to "create a climate where dialogue and reconciliation is possible".
As well as prosecuting officials behind human rights violations last year, the authorities also needed to drop charges against people accused of non-violent offences relating to freedom of expression and assembly, he said in the release.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Stephen Powell)