U.S. concerned about Bahrain violence, weak follow-up on reforms

* Washington worries conflict could widen, to Iran's benefit

WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - U.S. officials voiced concern

on Tuesday that Bahrain's failure to implement key reforms

outlined in an independent 2011 report is making political

dialogue more difficult and widening fissures in society in ways

that would benefit Iran.

Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has been under

Western pressure to implement recommendations for police,

judicial, media and education reforms made by the Bahrain

Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), an independent

commission of international legal experts.

"We are worried that this society is moving apart rather

than coming together in a way that would ensure both human

rights and stability," said a senior U.S. official, speaking to

reporters on condition he not be identified by name.

"It's absolutely clear that if society breaks apart, Iran

will be the big winner and beneficiary," added the official.

Shi'ite protesters complain they continue to be marginalized

by Bahrain's Sunni rulers. The strategically located island

state is a key U.S. ally in Washington's stand-off with Shi'ite

Iran.

The BICI report, issued last year, said 35 people died

during unrest which erupted in the Persian Gulf monarchy in

February 2011 after revolts overthrew dictators in Egypt and

Tunisia.

The U.S. official said Bahrain had "followed a number of the

recommendations" including allowing Red Cross access to

prisoners, issuing arrest protocols and modest police training

and setting up an ombudsman in the Ministry of Interior.

"On the hardest issues, the government has not followed

through," he said, citing people still being held in prison or

facing prosecution for the early 2011 demonstrations.

"We remain concerned about increasing violence in Bahrain,

by limits on free expression and assembly and a political

environment that's become increasingly difficult and that's made

reconciliation and political dialogue more difficult," said the

official.

Washington also lamented fresh violence in the past month,

including Molotov cocktails and other violent actions by

protesters, as well an "excessive use of force by police and

security forces," said the official.

A second U.S. official said the 60-year-old U.S. security

relationship with Bahrain was critical to regional stability and

required a balancing act by Washington.

American policy aimed to "balance those requirements and

those interests with those we have at the same time in

encouraging reform, given our commitment to the fact that reform

is the only way we can see that genuine stability and prosperity

will emerge in the region," said he second official.

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