Norfolk-based ships deploy to Bahrain amid strained relations

USS Monsoon (PC 4), Photo courtesy U.S. Navy
USS Monsoon (PC 4), Photo courtesy U.S. Navy

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY/AP) — Two coastal patrol ships left Naval Station Norfolk Wednesday and headed to Bahrain, where relations are strained with the U.S. after the country expelled a U.S. diplomat earlier this week.

USS Hurricane (PC 3) and USS Monsoon (PC 4) were forward deployed to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Manama, Bahrain. With their arrival, a total of ten coastal patrol ships will be permanently stationed at the Gulf island nation, leaving three stationed in the continental U.S.

These ships’ primary mission, according to a Navy released, is “coastal patrol and interdiction surveillance.”

The move comes as the relationship is strained between Washington and it’s longtime Gulf ally, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

On Monday, Bahraini authorities ordered a senior U.S. diplomat to leave the country after he met with members of the country’s main Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq. Authorities say the diplomat intervened in the country’s domestic affairs by holding meetings with some groups at the expense of others.

American officials have disputed that assertion, saying the diplomat — U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski — met with some government officials and had scheduled meetings with others.

On Wednesday, Bahraini authorities summoned prominent opposition activists for questioning in connection with their meeting with Malinowski.

Ali Salman, the head of Al-Wefag, and Khalil al-Marzooq, and Al-Wefag member and a former deputy parliament speaker, were summoned for violating a government decision that requires any meetings between foreign officials and so-called “political societies,” such as Al-Wefaq, to take place in coordination with the Foreign Ministry and in the presence of a representative it has chosen.

This was according to a statement by the Interior Ministry, which said Salman and al-Marzooq were released after questioning.

Salman’s lawyers were prevented from attending his interrogation, which focused mainly on the meeting with Malinowski in addition to the political situation in Bahrain and the region, according to Al-Wefaq.

Bahrain has faced more than three years of unrest after a Shiite-dominated opposition movement inspired by Arab Spring protests took to the streets to demand greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain moved to crush the uprising with the help of security forces from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring Gulf Arab states.

Repeated rounds of talks between the government and members of the opposition have failed to significantly defuse the tensions, and activists frequently clash with security forces.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the U.S. has registered a formal complaint with the Bahraini embassy. She said the complaint was registered during the past 24 hours.

“We were very clear that we found some of the requests issued by the government of Bahrain to be inappropriate, contravening international l norms and conventions,” Psaki said. “We also have an important relationship with the government of Bahrain.”

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