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Just a month before its Free Trade Agreement with the US is slated to go into effect, Bahrain has yet to close its official Israel Boycott Office, despite a pledge to do so made to Washington last year, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In addition, senior Bahraini officials have publicly indicated that regardless of their promise to the Bush Administration, the ban on Israeli products will continue.
The US and Bahrain signed a free trade agreement in September 2004. It was ratified by Congress in December 2005, but will only go into effect in the next few weeks, after the Bahraini government finalizes various changes to its trade legislation.
After the US conditioned the deal on Bahrain's removal of restrictions on trade with the Jewish state, Bahraini officials assured Washington that they would cancel the anti-Israel embargo and close down their Israel Boycott Office.
Nonetheless, in remarks before Bahrain's Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa denied that his country would end the boycott.
According to the Bahrain Tribune, Khalifa told the deputies present "that the relations would be normal with Israel when the Arab League orders the Arab countries to end the boycott, and until then the Kingdom was sticking to the boycott."
These echoed remarks that Khalifa had previously made to the chamber last October, in a discussion of the free trade agreement with the US, when he said that the boycott of Israel would end only once the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council agreed to such a move.
At the time, Bahrain's Finance Minister concurred, telling the deputies that even if the US Congress insisted that Bahrain close its Israel Boycott Office, "The closure does not mean the Kingdom intends to lift the ban on Israel."
Yousif Zainal, a member of Bahrain's Chamber of Deputies who was present at this week's session with the Foreign Minister, told the Post that, "I don't believe there is any intention for the government of Bahrain to establish economic relations with Zionists." Zainal has been a vocal opponent of ties with Israel.
Contacted by telephone, an official at Bahrain's Ministry of Finance, when asked whether the country had complied with its commitment to Washington to shut the Israel Boycott Office, said, "We are in the process of dismantling it," though he acknowledged that, "the office is still physically there."
The official insisted, however, that Bahrain was no longer enforcing the boycott, though he would not say when, or if, the closure of the boycott office would be completed.
In addition, the Post found, the boycott office continues to appear on at least two official Bahraini government Web sites, those of the Ministries of Finance and Commerce, with the former containing a detailed list of the office's responsibilities.
These include, "research and investigations about companies, agencies and establishments dealing with Israel," as well as "inspection for local shops and stores to ensure that they are not dealing in goods included in the boycott list."
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