The Trump administration has informed Congress it plans to go through with the sale of 19 Lockheed Martin F-16 aircraft and related equipment to Bahrain, dropping human rights conditions placed on the deal by the Obama administration.
The office of Senator Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) on March 29 said the Foreign Relations Committee was notified by the State Department that the Trump administration intends to approve the sale to the U.S. ally.
The Senate can review the deal and could still vote to block the transaction, although with a Republican majority, that is unlikely.
The State Department originally notified Congress of the planned $4.87 billion sale last September during the Obama administration. But it was pulled back because of the Obama administration’s concerns that Bahrain had not made promised progress on human rights matters.
The decision by the new administration signals its backing for Sunni-led countries as counterweights to Shi’ite Iran’s influence in the region.
Brian Dooley of Washington-based Human Rights First said separating the sale of the warplanes from human rights requirements would “encourage further repression” and create instability in Bahrain.
“The sale will send exactly the wrong signal to the dictatorship: that the White House thinks the political crackdown is not just morally acceptable but also not dangerous, when in fact it’s what’s fueling the country’s instability,” Dooley said.
Corker, however, said there are “more effective ways to seek changes in partner policies” than putting public conditions on the sale of weapons.
Along with the jets, the sale includes 23 engines, radars, and other avionics; air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance; and related equipment.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has been hit by unrest since March 2011, when authorities put down a month of Shi’ite-led protests demanding democratic reforms.
Its majority Shi’ite population has complained of being marginalized by ruling Sunni authorities.
Bahrain is a strategic U.S. ally and home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.