WASHINGTON -- American officials are denying press reports that the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, was considering a move out of the strife-ridden port.
“We are aware of these reports, which do not reflect the views of either the departments of State or Defense," a State Department official told The Huffington Post.
"Diplomatically, we regard Bahrain as an important partner, while the U.S. Navy has a long-standing relationship of more than 60 years with Bahrain, which is a vital member of our Combined Maritime Forces, supporting regional maritime security and stability.”
The latest report, which appeared Thursday in The Australian, contends that officials in Washington had grown increasingly wary of the Kingdom’s recent crackdown on anti-government protesters, and was looking for a new home for the fleet.
The Fifth Fleet is the Navy’s central presence in the Middle East, and it stands guard over vital waterways between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. It has also played an instrumental role in combating piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Speculation that the Navy might move the Fleet dates back to this spring’s anti-government protests in Manama, Bahrain's capital. Observers have suggested that the Fifth Fleet's presence in Bahrain has impeded the Obama administration’s ability to take a hard line with the regime.
In contrast to its response to the popular uprisings in Syria and Egypt, the administration has pursued a more gentle approach of engagement in the Gulf, with Obama hosting Bahrain's crown prince at the White House just last month.
“The United States continues to support all of the ongoing efforts that are necessary to promote reconciliation among Bahrainis and to advance necessary reforms,” the State Department official said.