The United States and Bahrain, on Wednesday, signed a strategic security and economic agreement, which US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said would expand defence and intelligence collaboration between the two countries, Reuters reports.
The agreement was signed at a meeting at the State Department between Blinken and Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.
“At the heart of the agreement is a shared goal: working together to build a region that is more secure, more prosperous, and that’s more connected to the world economy,” Blinken said to reporters just before the signing ceremony.
“We’re looking forward to using this agreement as a framework for additional countries that wish to join us in strengthening regional stability, economic cooperation and technological innovation.”
The development comes during a period of churn in the Gulf as the Biden government negotiates with Saudi Arabia about a US-Saudi defence pact and the possibility of an Israel-Saudi agreement aimed at normalising relations.
Bahrain already hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the headquarters of the US Naval Forces Central Command. Thousands of US military personnel are deployed in Bahrain, which is designated as a major non-NATO ally.
A senior Biden official, briefing reporters on Tuesday ahead of the announcement, said the Crown Prince’s visit to Washington is the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of diplomatic engagement, including multiple trips to Manama by senior US officials.
In a region wary of Iran’s influence, the official said the agreement is “about deterrence and setting conditions for a more stable region going forward.”
The deal was described by US officials as a legally binding agreement, but one that does not carry the Article V mutual defence pact that is part of the NATO treaty.
The White House said the agreement will help formalise steps the US Central Command was taking to integrate the region’s air and missile defence systems and increase “maritime domain awareness”, according to a White House fact sheet.
US officials planned to bring up human rights concerns during the talks with the Bahrainis, the official said.
Hundreds of political prisoners in Bahrain suspended a hunger strike after the government promised to improve prison conditions, rights groups said.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said the prisoners agreed to suspend the strike, which started on 7 August, until 30 September to allow implementation of the promised changes.