Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad met with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Washington on Wednesday to discuss a number of issues, including countering Iran’s activities in the Middle East and the Gulf dispute.
“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,” said a US state department statement.
“Secretary Tillerson thanked His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince, for Bahrain’s strong partnership with the United States.”
Crown Prince Salman’s visit to the US capital, where he also met with secretary of defence James Mattis, marks the highest-level visit of a Bahraini delegation since Donald Trump took office. On Thursday, he is scheduled to meet with US president Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence.
Mr Mattis hosted an “enhanced honour cordon” welcoming the crown prince after which they signed an enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA), in place since 1991. Bahrain 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. Bahrain, a non-Nato ally, is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
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Karen Young, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said the Bahraini delegation’s visit encompasses more than the tradition diplomatic meetings.
"The delegating in Washington now is seeking US support for efforts in order 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."
Crown Prince Salman, who arrived in Washington on Tuesday night, is leading a large diplomatic, military and economic delegation to discuss with US officials bilateral 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, head of the operations division at the Royal Bahraini Air Force Brig Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman, and a number of other officials.