MANAMA, Bahrain: Bahrain has denied that it offered an invitation to a top U.S. diplomat who was earlier expelled after he met with a leading Shiite opposition group, extending a rift between Washington and the tiny, strategic Gulf nation.
The island kingdom's undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Abdullatif Abdullah, said in comments posted by the official Bahrain News Agency Thursday evening that no invitation has been made to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski.
Abdullah was responding to comments by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki earlier this week, who said Malinowski had received an invitation and that a trip was being planned.
Bahrain is an important ally for Washington because it is the longtime home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The country has seen more than three years of unrest as its majority Shiites push for greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy.
Abdulla said that Psaki's comments contained inaccuracies about the kingdom and that it does not need "outside observers." He added that Bahrain is committed to making political reforms and that it does not prohibit freedom of expression.
Psaki told reporters Monday that Bahrain has "much to do" to meet its own commitment to reforms, and that it is "unfortunate that they have not taken advantage of opportunities to hear from outside observers."
Washington, Psaki said, has concerns about a lack of accountability of abuse by security forces, reports of mistreatment and torture in detention facilities and "ongoing harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights of freedom of expression."
Bahrain ordered Malinowski to leave in early July, after he met with the main Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq.
Manama said he had intervened in the country's domestic affairs by holding meetings with some groups at the expense of others.