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US resumes aid to Bahrain military

The United States will lift holds on security assistance to the Bahrain Defense Force and National Guard. The holds were put in place after Bahrain cracked down on demonstrations there in 2011.

Washington's decision to lift the holds on security assistance to a key Persian Gulf ally comes as President Barack Obama has been stressing his commitment to Gulf security during nuclear negotiations with Iran.

"While we do not think that the human rights situation in Bahrain is adequate ... we believe it is important to recognize that the government of Bahrain has made some meaningful progress on human rights reforms and reconciliation," said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby's statement did not specify what additional security assistance would now be made available.

Bahrain has long been a close US ally and is the headquarters of the US 5th Fleet.

"Following the lift of these holds, we will continue to press Bahrain on our human rights concerns," Kirby said.

In May 2012, the State Department said it was resuming some military sales to Bahrain.

The US postponed some planned weapons sales to Bahrain in 2011 pending the outcome of a local investigation into alleged human rights abuses, committed during anti-government uprisings began that February.

Human rights groups critical

Reaction from human rights groups was swift. Since 2011 at least 89 people have been killed in confrontations with Bahrain security, and hundreds have been arrested and put on trial, say rights groups.

"The Obama administration's decision to lift restrictions on security assistance to Bahrain's Defense Forces and National Guard is occurring in the absence of any real or meaningful political reform," said Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

While there is no evidence the US decision was directly related to the

suicide bombing on a mosque in Kuwait

last week, it does come as Gulf monarchies grapple with what appears to be an increased threat from the militant "Islamic State" group.

US officials did not specify what types of weapons or security equipment or systems would be transferred to Bahrain. They did stress that, apart from items that meet a clear counterterrorism need, the United States "will maintain restrictions on security sales to the Bahrain Ministry of Interior."

av/jr (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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