During a meeting in Paris last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry promised the foreign minister of Bahrain that the U.S. would work to lift its four-year ban on delivering weapons to the Gulf kingdom, imposed because of Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on protesters, activists and political opponents that began during the Arab Spring of 2011 and continues to this day.
The problem with Kerry’s promise — which has not been previously reported — was that he was speaking extemporaneously, four senior administration officials involved in the issue told me. The actual inter-agency decision to scuttle the weapons ban had not been made. U.S. and Bahraini officials have been holding secret negotiations to come to such a new arrangement. U.S. negotiators are now operating with the understanding that lifting the weapons ban is a commitment that Kerry made, and one the U.S. government is working hard to fulfill.
Unlike with previous U.S. government discussions over what to do about Bahrain’s human rights abuses, this time President Barack Obama’s team has not consulted Congress. I caught up with Senator Ron Wyden, who along with Senators Marco Rubio and Patrick Leahy has been pressing the administration to maintain the ban until Bahrain showed more progress on civil rights. Wyden was surprised when I told him the weapons ban could be ending. […]