The former U.S. ambassador to Bahrain called King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa a pro-American, reform-minded monarch in a secret diplomatic cable 14 months ago, but now the ruler of the key Persian Gulf kingdom is facing massive street demonstrations and demands for an end to his dynasty.
“King Hamad is personable and engaging,” Adam Ereli wrote on Dec. 2, 2009, in a dispatch prepared for a visit to Bahrain by Dennis Blair, then-director of national intelligence.
“King Hamad is committed to fighting corruption and prefers doing business with American firms because they are transparent.”
Mr. Ereli, a career diplomat who returned to Washington in January, explained that Hamad is “something of a ‘corporate king,’ giving direction and letting his top people manage the government.”
King Hamad was grooming his son, Crown Prince Salman, to take over the government from Hamad’s uncle, Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman, the ambassador added, in the cable released Tuesday by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Crown Prince Salman is now supreme commander of the Bahrain defense forces.
“Crown Prince Salman … is very Western in his approach and is closely identified with the reformist camp within the ruling family, particularly with respect to economic and labor reforms designed to combat corruption and modernize Bahrain’s economic base,” Mr. Ereli wrote.
In the memo, the ambassador also briefed Mr. Blair on Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdallah, director of the Bahrain National Security Agency (BNSA).
“Sheikh Khalifa is determined to rid BNSA of the last vestiges of British influence and grow BNSA into a world-class intelligence and security service with global reach,” Mr. Ereli wrote, referring to 150 years of British imperial control over Bahrain, which gained independence in 1971.
“Sheikh Khalifa unabashedly positions his relationship with the U.S. intelligence community above all others, insisting that his key lieutenants communicate openly with their U.S. liaison partners and actively seek new avenues for cooperation.”
Mr. Ereli told Mr. Blair, “In your discussions, you will find Sheikh Khalifa to be frank and likeable …”
The relationship between Bahrain and the United States is so strong that the Pentagon stationed the Navy’s 5th Fleet in the Gulf island nation of 1.2 million.
Now the Bahrain government is under increasing tension from street protesters demanding political reform and an end to the Khalifa dynasty, a Sunni monarchy ruling a majority Shiite Muslim nation.
APPEAL FOR CALM
Anti-government demonstrators in Yemen ignored the U.S. ambassador’s call for calm earlier this week, but opposition politicians heard his appeal for negotiations and appeared ready to open talks with President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Ambassador Gerald Feierstein told local reporters over the weekend that the opposition should return to talks and get out of the streets, where thousands of pro- and anti-government demonstrators clashed on Tuesday.
“Most important, we believe that the focus now should be on the negotiations and not on the demonstrations on the street,” he said. “It’s extremely important for both sides to prevent any outbreak of violence or conflicts between the parties.”
Opposition leaders on Sunday agreed to re-enter talks that were suspended last year but complained Monday that the government was not serious about settling political differences.
• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail email@example.com.