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Sat 10 Dec 2011 11:37 AM

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Bahrain arms sale edges closer after US praise

US sends chief human rights official to Gulf state after praising reconciliation efforts

Bahrain arms sale edges closer after US praise
Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa shown with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in October

The United States commended Bahrain on Friday for moving
quickly to implement steps toward political reconciliation and said it was
sending its chief human rights official to the island nation for further talks.

Washington has said a pending $53m arms sale to Bahrain will
hinge partly on the Gulf monarchy halting abuses inflicted on protesters in
February and March and outlined in a report by a government-appointed
fact-finding commission of international lawyers.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United
States was pleased by Bahrain's deal with the International Committee of the
Red Cross to develop more responsible police work and its decision to halt the
trial proceedings of more than 100 athletes charged in connection with the

"We call on all parties in Bahrain to create and
support a climate conducive to reconciliation," Nuland said, urging
Bahrain to act swiftly on other recommendations from the commission.

Nuland said the State Department's chief human rights
official, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, would travel to Bahrain
next week "to continue our human rights dialogue."

Inspired by 'Arab Spring' revolts in Tunisia and
Egypt, thousands of mainly Shi'ite Bahrainis took to the streets in February
and March demanding political change to limit the power of the ruling Sunni
Muslim Al-Khalifa family.

The protest wave was forcibly put down with the help of
military forces brought in from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain
hosts the US Fifth Fleet.

Bahrain has hired US and British police chiefs to lead
reform efforts within security agencies and established a committee to look
into the commission's recommendations.

But there has been no progress in talks between the
government and opposition groups on political reforms and the Gulf Arab island
state remains tense, with daily clashes between riot police and Shi'ite

The United States in October said it was delaying the planned
arms sale to Bahrain - designated as a "major non-NATO ally" and a
frontline state amid rising regional tensions over nearby Iran - pending the
outcome of the commission report and the government's response to it.

At stake is the proposed US supply of 44 ‘Humvee’ armored
vehicles and several hundred TOW missiles along with associated equipment and