MANAMA, Bahrain - Officials and experts from 28 countries have convened here in Bahrain for the largest annual conference on Gulf and Middle East international relations, where the crisis in Syria is expected to dominate the agenda.
Your humble Cable guy is on the ground in Bahrain at the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue, as part of the U.S. delegation to the conference, which is being led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton elected not to attend this year; she was the star of the last Manama dialogue in 2010. Clinton will be in the region this month, however, visiting Tunisia and the UAE next week.
Other top U.S. officials here in Bahrain include Central Command head Gen. James Mattis, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner, Naval Forces Central Command head Vice Adm. John Miller, and Ambassador to Bahrain Thomas Krajeski.
Sen. John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate, Armed Services Committee, is leading a six-person U.S. Congressional delegation, which also includes Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Reps. Charles Ruppersberger, Kenneth Michael Conaway, Devin Nunes and Rodney Frelinghuysen.
"This has been a very carefully prepared Manama dialogue," John Chipman, director general and CEO of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Cable. "One of the big issues the Manama Dialogue will discuss will be the shape of the Syrian opposition."
The Manama Dialogue was begun in 2004 as a counterpart to the IISS Shangri-La dialogue, which is held each June in Singapore. There was no Manama dialogue in 2011, due to the internal conflict in Bahrain that began in early 2011 and continues to this day. But following two private Sherpa meetings held in February and October of this year, the parties decided mutually to convene the Manama dialogue again this year, Chipman said.
"This is not seen by most of the governments attending of a bilateral meeting in Bahrain but rather a convening of international officials being held in Bahrain," said Chipman, acknowledging that the political situation in Bahrain is politically delicate for the dozens of high level attendees from around the world.
Some of the other attendees expected to make news this weekend include Mustafa Sabbagh, secretary general of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, Chief of the French Defense Staff Adm. Edouard Guillaud, head of the Iraqi Department of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa Bakir, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
We'll be blogging from Bahrain all weekend so watch this space.