The Obama administration weighed retaliation against Bahrain on Tuesday after the Persian Gulf emirate, a strategic U.S. ally, expelled a senior U.S. diplomat for allegedly meddling in its internal affairs.
Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor, was declared persona non grata Monday when he refused to allow a Bahraini Foreign Ministry official to sit in on meetings with Bahraini opposition groups and individuals.
Malinowski had come to Bahrain to try to encourage the Sunni-led government and representatives of its politically weak Shiite majority to negotiate reforms aimed at giving the Shiites greater power. But some in the government fear the American collaboration with the Shiites and wanted to monitor their meetings.
Malinowski left Bahrain late Tuesday.
U.S. officials said demands to listen in on meetings were "counter to conventional diplomatic norms."
Despite the spat, both sides appeared to be signaling that they want to avoid a deeper fissure. Bahrain is host to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, and the Bahraini monarchy relies on the United States to help protect it from threatening neighbors, such as Iran.
Customarily, U.S. officials will answer an expulsion by demanding the departure of a diplomat from the other government.
Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said officials were "considering our response."
But she said that "certainly, our strong relationship with Bahrain is something that we would like to maintain.... We're considering a range of options with that in mind."
Malinowski said in a Tweet that Bahrain's decision was "not about me but about undermining dialogue.... Those committed to reconciliation should not be deterred."
Some Bahraini officials said they also hoped the confrontation would not rupture the relationship.
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