The US State Department is removing human rights conditions on a large sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain, as the Trump administration moves to shore up ties with the Gulf ally, reports said Thursday.
President Donald Trump's predecessor Barack Obama had imposed the conditions on the sale to Bahrain of the 19 single-engine supersonic fighters worth $2.7 billion over the Sunni monarchy's crackdown on dissent by the Shiite majority.
Bloomberg, citing two persons familiar with the plans, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday asked Congress to support the sale, starting a clock for its approval.
The notice came on the same day that the head of US forces in the region, General Joseph Votel, told lawmakers that imposing preconditions linked to human rights on arms sales to foreign allies hurts relationships between the militaries.
"While we have historically enjoyed a strong mil-to-mil relationship with our Bahraini counterparts, the slow progress on key FMS cases, specifically additional F-16 aircraft and upgrades to Bahrain's existing F-16 fleet, due to concerns of potential human rights abuses in the country, continues to strain our relationship," he told the House Armed Services Committee.
Senator Bob Corker, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said "there are more effective ways to seek changes in partner policies than publicly conditioning weapons transfers in this manner."
He called the Obama-era arms sales conditions "unprecedented and counterproductive to maintaining security cooperation and ultimately addressing human rights issues."
Bahrain, which is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, is a key US ally along with other Sunni Arab states in confronting Iran.