Fri, April 8, 2011 | 05MANAMA230
WikiLeaks: King of Bahrain Discusses Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel/Palestine
Bahrain’s King Hamad, despite some continuing worries about Saudi Arabia, expressed optimism about Bahrain and the region in a wide-ranging discussion with the Ambassador February 15. He was delighted with the state of the bilateral relationship and the leadership role of President Bush. He felt that the positive news on the Israel-Palestine front and in Iraq will have a beneficial impact in the region, both politically and economically. On Iran, he preferred a diplomatic solution, but if Iran did get a nuclear weapons capability he wanted the U.S. to step in as a “nuclear guarantor.” He put the blame for the Hariri assassination squarely on Syria. He was no longer worried about Saudi Arabia blocking the FTA, but lamented continuing bilateral irritants with the Saudis and Saudi obstruction of inter-GCC projects such as a Qatar-UAE causeway and a Qatar-Kuwait pipeline (both of which impact on Bahrain). He said that Bahrain had decided to let Al-Jazeera open an office in Bahrain. He indicated that Bahrain will allow candidates to participate in political parties in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAMA 000230
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/16/2015
TAGS: PREL, ETRD, PGOV, PHUM, BA”>BA
SUBJECT: KING DISCUSSES REGIONAL ISSUES WITH AMBASSADOR
REF: MANAMA 227
Classified By: Ambassador William T. Monroe. Reason: 1.4 (B)(D)
——- SUMMARY ——-
1. (S) Bahrain’s King Hamad, despite some continuing worries about Saudi Arabia, expressed optimism about Bahrain and the region in a wide-ranging discussion with the Ambassador February 15. He was delighted with the state of the bilateral relationship and the leadership role of President Bush. He felt that the positive news on the Israel-Palestine front and in Iraq will have a beneficial impact in the region, both politically and economically. On Iran, he preferred a diplomatic solution, but if Iran did get a nuclear weapons capability he wanted the U.S. to step in as a “nuclear guarantor.” He put the blame for the Hariri assassination squarely on Syria. He was no longer worried about Saudi Arabia blocking the FTA, but lamented continuing bilateral irritants with the Saudis and Saudi obstruction of inter-GCC projects such as a Qatar-UAE causeway and a Qatar-Kuwait pipeline (both of which impact on Bahrain). He said that Bahrain had decided to let Al-Jazeera open an office in Bahrain. He indicated that Bahrain will allow candidates to participate in political parties in the 2006 parliamentary elections.
TEA WITH THE KING
2. (SBU) King Hamad invited the Ambassador and DCM to Safriya Palace on the afternoon of February 15 for tea and a relaxed conversation in front of the fireplace (it was an unusually cold and rainy day in Bahrain). The King was accompanied by Minister of the Royal Court Shaykh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and Shaykh Hamad bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a brother-in-law and close confidant of the King. The conversation, which covered a range of domestic and regional issues, lasted 90 minutes.
BILATERAL RELATIONS GOING STRONG
3. (SBU) The Ambassador opened the discussion by expressing appreciation for the King’s January 26 letter to the President. (In the letter, the King expressed full support for the shared goals in the pursuit of freedom and noted that “like you, Mr. President, we in Bahrain see the progress made in Afghanistan, along with the forthcoming elections in Iraq, and democratic developments in Ukraine as symbols of the universal desire for freedom, openness and representation.”) The King said that he, in turn, appreciated the response he had just received from the President, and observed that there have been two countries — Bahrain and Jordan — that over the long term have consistently sided with and supported the United States. The U.S. could always count on Bahrain, he stated. Calling the President a “great leader,” he said that he had always believed in the President from Day 1. What the U.S. has done in Iraq will change the future of the region. He was delighted with the successful elections in Iraq.
ISRAEL-PALESTINE: GOOD FOR STABILITY IN THE REGION
4. (C) The King spoke at some length on Israeli-Palestinian developments, expressing satisfaction at the positive turn of events. This is a good moment, he said, that can be important for stability in the region. He said that he had instructed newly-appointed Minister of Information Dr. Mohammed Abdul-Ghaffar to make sure that official announcements or statements coming out of the Ministry of Information do not refer to Israel as the “enemy” or “Zionist entity.” He revealed that Bahrain already has contacts with Israel at the intelligence/security level (i.e., with Mossad), and indicated that Bahrain will be willing to move forward in other areas, although it will be difficult for Bahrain to be the first. When asked if Bahrain might look into developing trade contacts at some point, he said that this would have to await the establishment of “side-by-side” states. He added that he planned to travel to Jordan on February 19 to meet with King Abdullah and show his support for moving forward.
5. (C) The King stated that Israeli-Palestinian peace, by helping stabilize the Middle East, will facilitate economic growth throughout the region. But he also suggested that, when the Palestinian question is removed from the equation and the Arab-Israeli dispute is settled, Iran’s ability to cause mischief will be lessened. The Iranians will no longer be able to exploit the Palestinian issue for their own objectives.
IF IRAN GOES NUCLEAR….
6. (S) The King stressed that it was critical that we not allow Iran to get a nuclear capability. He said that there are two ways to deal with Iran: through diplomacy or by force. Bahrain prefers diplomacy. If we get to a point where Iran has a nuclear weapons capability, he said, then the U.S. would have to step in and be the “nuclear guarantor” for the countries of the region.
HARIRI ASSASSINATION: BLAME FALLS ON SYRIA
7. (S) King Hamad left no doubt that he put the blame for the Hariri assassination squarely on Syria. He said that he had had dinner with Hariri just 10 days earlier when Hariri was in Bahrain for the opening of the 10th Islamic Trade Fair. Hariri had told him that he planned to move to openly oppose the Syrians in Lebanon in May (after the parliamentary elections), but did not want to tip his hand before the elections. The discounted any other theories about who might have been behind the attack.
CONTINUING CONCERNS ABOUT SAUDI ARABIA’S RELATIONS WITH GCC
8. (C) The King said Bahrain is no longer worried about Saudi Arabia trying to block its FTA with the United States (and he expects no difficulty in ratification from the Bahrain parliament because of the dust-up with the Saudis over the FTA). He nonetheless clearly remains disturbed by the way it played out, by continuing irritants in the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia, and by Saudi attempts to block cooperative projects between other GCC countries. He repeated a now familiar litany of Bahraini complaints about Saudi ill-will towards Bahrain, including the suspension of the 50,000 b/d oil grant and the cut-off in sales of sand. (Note: The Crown Prince, in a meeting with Gen. Abizaid the next day, added a new complaint: the Saudis this year had restricted the plot of land allocated to Bahraini Hajj travelers in Mecca.)
9. (C) The King said that the Saudis are blocking a proposed causeway project between Qatar and the UAE and a proposed gas pipeline project between Qatar and Kuwait, both of which have an impact on Bahrain. The Qatar-UAE causeway, when combined with the planned Bahrain-Qatar causeway, would greatly facilitate travel between the three countries (and, of course, eliminate the need to transit through Saudi Arabia — with its implications for women drivers). The gas pipeline from Qatar to Kuwait would pass through Saudi territorial waters, and would also include a link to Bahrain. Because of Saudi objections, the King said, the Kuwaitis are now turning to the Iranians for gas. (Note: On the gas link to Bahrain, it is our understanding that the major sticking point is price to be paid for the Qatari gas.) The King asked if the U.S. could play a helpful role in getting the Saudis to let the gas project proceed.
AL-JAZEERA RETURNING TO BAHRAIN?
10. (C) Although neither the gas pipeline nor the causeway to Qatar have entered the implementation stage, the King maintained that relations with Qatar are now excellent. He joked that with the completion of the causeway, Bahrain would receive Qatar’s money and Qatar would get Bahrain’s ideas (on political reform). As an indication of the improving relations, he said that Bahrain had now agreed to let Al-Jazeera open an office in Bahrain. (Note: though true, this is not quite a done deal. XXXXXXXXXXXX
HELP ON DEVELOPING BAHRAIN’S TV/RADIO CAPABILITY
11. (SBU) King Hamad said that he instructed new Minister of Information Abdul-Ghaffar to seek help from the U.S. to help Bahrain turn its television broadcasting into a world class operation. XXXXXXXXXXXX He had told Addul-Ghafar that he needed a strategic vision to develop Bahrain’s broadcasting industry. (Note: Abdul-Ghaffar had met with the Ambassador and raised this issue on February 10 — reported reftel). It is now clear that he was acting on instruction from the palace, and not on his own initiative.)
DEMOCRACY IN BAHRAIN AND THE REGION
12. (C) The King reviewed the history of democracy in the Middle East, lamenting that the initial stirrings of democratic movements in the region had been stifled by the rise of socialist/Baathist governments in the 1950s and 60s. With the emphasis in the region on socialist slogans, there was a move to create single political units and eliminate political diversity. People no longer understood the concepts of participatory democracy or diversity of thinking, Now these outdated political vestiges are being cast away, most recently in Iraq. We now have an opportunity to encourage participation in the political process throughout the region.
13. (C) This is exactly what is happening in Bahrain now, the King stated. There still are elements of the old thinking, such as Baathists connected to the Uruba Club. And there is the challenge of getting the Shia oppositionists to participate in the next election. They did not participate in the 2002 election because they did not like what was in the Constitution. The government, he said, is telling them to come out and participate in the 2006 elections. If they have the numbers and participate, they can get seats in the parliament and change the Constitution (as the Constitution permits). He added that, while the last election was based on participation by individuals, the 2006 election will be based on political parties. Accordingly, the government is now drafting a political parties law.