Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has decided to lift all human rights conditions on a major sale of F-16 fighter jets and other arms to Bahrain in an effort to end a rift between the United States and a critical Middle East ally, according to administration and congressional officials involved in the debate.
Mr. Tillerson’s decision comes as the Trump administration looks to bolster Sunni Arab states in the Middle East and find new ways to confront Iran in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain is a key player in that effort, and home to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the strategic waterway.
But the decision to drop the human rights assurances as a condition of the sale is bound to be read by Saudi Arabia and other states in the region as a sign that the new administration plans to ease its demands to protect and respect political dissidents and protesters. The conditions on the sale of 19 new American fighter jets, worth $2.8 billion, had been imposed by the Obama administration amid continuing concerns about the tiny Sunni monarchy’s crackdown against majority Shiites.
The State Department declined to comment on queries about Mr. Tillerson’s decision, which has been discussed at length with some members of Congress but not yet publicly announced.