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Friday, 24 August 2012

Should we welcome Bahrain's king?

What do I think of Prime Minister David Cameron's meeting the King of Bahrain in Downing Street (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19355337)? I don't know. I guess I am still of the view that it is useful for UK leaders to meet such people in pursuit of Middle East regional peace, an end to human rights abuses and other matters of mutual interest ("A Downing Street source told BBC correspondent Nick Childs the meeting would be focused primarily on trade, but the pair would also discuss the situation in Syria"). As I wrote in May 2011 (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2011/05/is-anyone-surprised.html?m=1):

"David Cameron has been roundly attacked for recently hosting the Crown Prince of Bahrain at Downing Street, although Number 10 says that Mr Cameron used the meeting to press the Crown Prince to embrace "reform not repression", and I can guardedly respect that (by the way, Bahrain's Crown Prince does have a very positive record when it comes to supporting the Israeli/Palestinian peace process).

"The balance between engaging with unsavoury regimes and criticising them is always a difficult one to strike. That is a challenge with which the Liberal Democrats amply engaged in opposition, and, now that the party is in government, we find that, lo and behold, it is not a challenge that disappears or is easily met. This government, like any other British government, balances its concern for human rights with the UK's security needs and the preservation of British interests overseas. As a great supporter of the Coalition Government and its approach to foreign policy, I do not claim to have easy answers to the questions that I am raising in this post. Is it lame to say that, when it comes to human rights in this difficult context, the Foreign Office is doing the best it can to strike the right balance? Especially with a Lib Dem Minister, Jeremy Browne, responsible there for human rights, doing his impressive best to take a nuanced approach to these difficult, complicated issues.

"The situation in Bahrain stinks, of course. But again, why should this come as a surprise? It's been going on for years. One has to support all constructive efforts to improve the situation for the people who live there, while recognising that this is going to take a long time and might well get worse before it gets better, a stark assessment that will come as scant comfort for the people concerned. Crucially, the presence in Bahrain of Saudi troops (and troops from the United Arab Emirates) must be seen in the context of the increasingly complicated, evolving relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia."

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