Bahrain Crown Prince and Trump address Iran actions and Gulf dispute

Prince Salman’s visit to the US capital was the highest-level visit yet by a Bahraini delegation

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain, during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The White House is discussing whether to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, two White House officials said. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

Bahrain’s crown prince, Salman bin Hamad, met US president Donald Trump on Thursday to discuss several issues, including countering Iran’s activities in the Middle East, and the Gulf dispute.

Mr Trump welcomed Crown Prince Salman, saying: “It’s a great honour to have the Crown Prince of Bahrain in the Oval Office. We're doing a lot of business together. They are buying a lot of things. I heard $9 billion is thrown about. That's a very nice trip and we appreciate it. We have a long relationship and it will only get better.

"I can tell you they've been … a great friend."

The crown prince, who also met with vice president Mike Pence, said his visit to Washington builds “on the hundred years of good relations” between Bahrain and the US.

“The peoples of both countries have benefited from this relationship, and we continue to seek ways to strengthen that,” he said.

On Wednesday, Crown Prince Salman met with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

“The two leaders discussed countering Iran’s malign activities in the region, the importance of resolving the ongoing Gulf dispute, and other bilateral and regional issues of mutual concern,” according to a US state department statement. “Mr Tillerson thanked the crown prince for Bahrain’s strong partnership with the United States.”

Prince Salman’s visit to the US capital, where he also met secretary of defence James Mattis, was the highest-level visit yet by a Bahraini delegation. Mr Mattis hosted an “enhanced honour cordon” welcoming the crown prince, after which they signed an enhanced defence co-operation agreement.

Bahrain’s defence ties with the US have improved under the Trump administration, which agreed to the sale of F-16 aircraft and removed conditions set by the Obama administration.

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Sigurd Neubauer, a non-resident fellow at Gulf Forum International, said that Bahrain wants to enhance its relations with the Trump administration because it sees itself on the front line against Iran and its agenda.

"[Manama] would also like to see a visit by King Hamad of Bahrain at the White House with president Trump, and it's possible that Crown Prince Salman has brought this up during his visit," he told The National.

King Hamad and Mr Trump met in Riyadh last May, and it is expected that the king would make an official visit to the White House in early 2018.

The state department said that Mr Tillerson stressed during his meeting with Crown Prince Salman on the importance of resolving the Gulf dispute between Qatar and four Arab countries, which have boycotted Doha over its support of extremist groups.

"The US supports Kuwaiti mediation and is likely encouraging Bahrain to attend next week's talks in Kuwait," Mr Neubauer said, in reference to the upcoming GCC summit.

Karen Young, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said the Bahraini delegation’s visit encompassed more than the traditional diplomatic meetings.

"The delegation in Washington now is seeking US support for efforts to tackle the larger political reforms that will be necessary for national reconciliation," she told The National. "Bahrain is an important bellwether of reforms moving forward in the Gulf Cooperation Council," she said, referencing a difficult fiscal position with the drop in oil revenues.

"Bahrain has been willing to try major reforms to the kafala [programme] or sponsored labour system, including a pilot programme allowing migrants to be self-employed with access to government health care. They are removing obstacles to foreign ownership and investment so intrinsic to Gulf economic models."

Prince Salman, who arrived in Washington on Tuesday night, is leading a large diplomatic, military and economic delegation to discuss with US officials co-operation, trade and economic reforms.

The delegation includes minister of foreign affairs Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed, minister of oil Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, president of the labour market regulatory authority Ausamah bin Abdullah Al Absi, and head of the operations division at the Royal Bahraini Air Force Brig Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman.