Sep 11, 2023 - World

Scoop: U.S. and Bahrain to sign strategic security and economic agreement

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Bahrain's Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, at the State Department in Washington, DC,

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Bahrain's Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2022. Photo: Elizabeth Franz/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Bahrain are expected to sign a strategic security and economic agreement this week that will upgrade the U.S. security commitment to the Gulf kingdom, according to three sources briefed on the issue.

Why it matters: Bahrain is a key U.S. partner in the Gulf. The Navy's 5th Fleet is headquartered on a large U.S. naval base there. In 2002, the Gulf kingdom became a major non-NATO ally of the U.S. — an important symbolic designation but one that does not include any security commitments.

  • Bahrain sees Iran, located less than 100 miles away on the other side of the Gulf, as a threat.
  • Tehran for years has claimed Bahrain as one of its provinces. The Bahraini government has rejected the claims and accused Iran of fueling unrest among the kingdom's Shiite population.

Driving the news: Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is expected to sign the agreement during a visit to Washington this week, the sources said.

  • He is also expected to meet Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to one source.
  • Brett McGurk, Biden's senior Middle East adviser, visited Bahrain last week and met with the crown prince and other Bahraini officials.

Details: The agreement includes a commitment to consult and provide assistance if Bahrain faces an imminent security threat, two sources said.

  • Another source familiar with the agreement said it will be legally binding. It will include a security commitment, and outline an economic partnership between the U.S. and Bahrain as well as cooperation around trusted technologies.
  • The agreement, however, does not include a NATO-style Article 5 commitment, which would have required the U.S. to see any attack on Bahrain as an attack on America.
  • The White House and the Bahraini Embassy declined to comment.

Behind the scenes: The sources said the U.S.-Bahrain strategic agreement has been in the works for more than a year.

  • The Biden administration wanted to use the agreement as a framework for similar agreements with other countries in the region, the sources said.
  • According to one source, McGurk discussed the final details of the agreement during his trip to Manama last week.

The big picture: The agreement with Bahrain is part of a broader push by the Biden administration to strengthen ties with Gulf countries.

  • On Saturday, Biden announced together with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and India a major international infrastructure project to connect India, the Middle East and Europe with a network of railways and shipping lines.
  • The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman said in his speech at the launching of the project that the kingdom will invest $20 billion in Biden's Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which will also include the railway and shipping project.
  • The Biden administration's efforts to get a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel got another boost over the weekend when a delegation of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Antiquities Authority arrived in Riyadh to participate in the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting. It was the first time an Israeli government delegation visited Saudi Arabia officially and publicly.

What to watch: The Biden administration is holding talks with Saudi Arabia on a mega-deal that could also include a U.S.-Saudi Arabia defense treaty.

  • Saudi officials want the agreement to be stronger and to include more commitments from the U.S., as Axios has previously reported. That would likely require Senate approval.
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