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In the wake of a report in last week's Jerusalem Post revealing Bahrain's intention to continue enforcing the Arab boycott of Israel, a prominent US Congressman has called on the Bush Administration to conduct an "urgent" investigation of the matter.
"Recent press reports raise serious concerns about Bahrain's intent to live up to its commitments and dismantle the boycott against Israel," said Rep. Benjamin Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the US House of Representatives' Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee.
"Bahrain's commitments to dismantle the boycott were a key factor Congress considered in approving the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement," Cardin said, adding, "I urge the Administration to investigate these reports on an urgent basis."
As first reported in the Post on May 11, Bahrain has yet to close its official Israel Boycott Office despite a pledge last year to Washington to do so. The US had conditioned the signing of a free trade agreement with Bahrain on an end to its embargo of the Jewish state. The Post also revealed that senior Bahraini officials continued to insist that the ban on Israeli products would continue irrespective of their promise to the Bush Administration.
In remarks on May 9 before Bahrain's Chamber of Deputies, 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 relations would be normal with Israel when the Arab League ordered the Arab countries to end the boycott, and until then the kingdom would not remove it.
Neena Moorjani, press secretary for the US Trade Representative's Office, which negotiated the trade agreement with Bahrain, insisted that the Gulf Arab state had given assurances that it was adhering to its commitment.
The Bahraini government, she said, "has told us that the Foreign Minister did not make the statement The Jerusalem Post quotes him as making," and that he later reaffirmed that the boycott office was closed.
The US Embassy in Bahrain, Moorjani said, had verified "firsthand" that the boycott office's phone lines had been disconnected and that its one staff member had been transferred.
"The US Embassy in Bahrain has also verified that there are no references to the boycott office on the Web sites of the Ministries of Commerce and Finance or any other government agency in English or Arabic," she added.
A cursory check by the Post, however, found that the references to the Israel boycott office continue to appear on the Web sites of both the Bahraini finance and commerce ministries, and that neither section has been removed.