US and Bahrain sign new 'milestone' security agreement

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is visiting Washington this week and will meet senior US officials

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during Wednesday's signing ceremony. AP
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Bahrain and the US on Wednesday signed a new bilateral security and economic agreement, strengthening the relationship between the two allied nations.

The deal was announced as Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is also the country's Prime Minister, met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a State Department ceremony.

"This agreement will strengthen co-ordination between our armed forces and the integration of our intelligence capacities, allowing us to even better deter and respond to threats as they arise," said Mr Blinken.

The Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement is the “latest manifestation of the United States’ enduring commitment to Bahrain and to the region in support of peace and shared prosperity”, according to an official fact sheet.

The agreement could serve as a “cornerstone for co-operation” among a broader grouping of countries in the Middle East, the fact sheet noted.

The Crown Prince was also scheduled to meet National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The agreement comes as part of a broad push by the Biden administration to strengthen ties with the Gulf.

Brett McGurk, Mr Biden's adviser on Middle East affairs, visited Bahrain last week, where he met Prince Salman and Bahraini officials.

The signing of the new agreement also follows the announcement at the G20 summit last week of a new trade route between India, the Middle East and Europe via a railway linked through ports – a project that the White House said would usher in a “new era of connectivity”.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hailed the new project in a speech at the summit, and said the kingdom would invest $20 billion to advance it.

Bahrain, host to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, is a non-Nato allied nation and a crucial US partner in the region.

“I think signing this agreement is a milestone in the strategic partnership,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

“It incorporates a lot of what we've been working on here, throughout the region in a number of areas”, including defence, security, technology and trade.

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks alongside Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa during his visit to Washington in March last year. EPA

Officials said the binding international agreement flowed from discussions that began during Prince Salman's visit to Washington last year, when he held a bilateral meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris. Since then, several senior US officials have travelled to Manana for talks.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, Bahrain has not restored ties with Iran, which were severed 2016. In June, Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said Bahrain may restore ties “soon”.

A crucial aspect of the bilateral agreement is the promotion of “a common vision of deterrence, diplomacy, economic security”, the official said.

“It's a very strong arrangement in which it is the policy of both of us to work together to help deter and disrupt any external aggression against the territorial integrity of any of the parties,” the official added.

“It's really designed to further enable what has been a policy of deterrence against threats, but also a policy of proactive diplomacy to de escalate conflicts in the region.”

The Biden administration's agenda in the Middle East has been focused on expanding the Abraham Accords, the 2020 agreement the UAE and Bahrain signed with Israel, establishing relations.

Morocco and Sudan later signed similar agreements, and the US is now pushing for Saudi Arabia to negotiate its own deal with Israel.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 9:02 PM