WASHINGTON — A government report says the United States approved $200 million in military sales from American companies to Bahrain in 2010, months before the pivotal Persian Gulf ally began a harsh crackdown on protesters.
The Obama administration has criticized the use of violence against dissenters by police and military units but has not exacted specific repercussions against Bahrain's government.
The yearly State Department report provides totals of U.S.-authorized arms sale agreements between U.S. defense companies and foreign governments. The latest tally showed a $112 million rise in licensed defense sales to Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, between the 2009 and 2010 budget years. Military exports in 2009 totaled $88 million.
In addition to aircraft and military electronics, the United States licensed $760,000 in exports of rifles, shotguns and assault weapons in 2010.
Since mid February, the kingdom has confronted demonstrators with cordons of armed military and police firing live ammunition. At least 31 people died and hundreds more were injured in the clashes.
The possibility that American-built weapons might have been used against protesters has raised questions in Congress and led the department to review its defense trade relationships with several Middle East nations.
"While the impact on our defense relations and the defense trade is uncertain, changes in the region may lead to changes in policy and therefore changes in how we do business," Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs, said last month.
The State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls approved more than $34 billion in total exports from American defense companies to foreign governments in 2010. That compares with $40 billion in 2009. The total details proposed sales, not actual shipments. It also doesn't include direct defense shipments from the United States to its allies.
Anthony Cordesman, national security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a centrist think tank in Washington, said the $760,000 in small arms licensed to Bahrain by the United States in 2010 was a pittance compared with what was sold in recent years to Mideast countries by European defense companies.
"It's a fruitless exercise to concentrate on American exports with all the amount of available small arms floating around the world," Cordesman said.
Jeff Abramson, deputy director of the Arms Control Association, countered that the "U.S. needs to be responsible for its own actions first." He added that the political upheaval across the Mideast "has brought to light the problems of providing arms to repressive regimes. The hope is, we'll now begin to see a rethinking of the willingness to do that."
Opposition rally: More than 10,000 demonstrators joined Bahrain's first public rally in months Saturday as Sheik Ali Salman, head of the Shiite political party Wefaq, urged backers to press ahead with peaceful protests for greater political rights.