Two top Bahraini officials visited Washington this week after the country's king lifted a state of emergency used to counter anti-government protests. Washington Post senior associate editor Lally Weymouth sat down with Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. Excerpts follow:
L.W.: The king of Bahrain said recently that the government will resume the dialogue but at the same time, protesters are being arrested.
The opposition figures in jail [had] been arrested before his majesty called for a dialogue.
L.W.: Are you sure?
We are talking about three people. But if you are talking about protesters or people in the streets causing problems for law and order, then nothing prevents a policeman from doing his job. ... There are many members of the opposition who are out free and have accepted his majesty's offer for a dialogue, which made us very happy.
L.W.: What is on the table?
There are no preconditions from any side to come to the table, and there is no ceiling. Anything can be put on the table for the dialogue.
L.W.: So election laws are on the table. What else?
Constitutional reforms, the election laws, giving powers to the elected assembly—it would gain powers over time. Also the issue of the accountability of government. ... We all believe that it is time that we move forward in these fields. There is one thing that everybody agrees on in Bahrain—that it cannot be done all at once.
L.W.: All the reforms can't be done at once?
For example, one of the demands was that the parliament would form the government.
L.W.: And elect the prime minister?
Exactly. We all agree it should happen step by step, and we are looking forward to that. Everyone now believes that we missed a good opportunity two months ago.
L.W.: In other words, the crackdown was a mistake?
No, the crackdown was not a mistake. Restoring law and order was not a mistake. Not coming to the dialogue and leading to such chaos in the country was a big mistake.
L.W.: You are blaming the opposition for that?
Yes. No doubt. And people should accept blame.
L.W.: Blame is usually on both sides. People say that the ruling family is divided. That the crown prince and you favor reform, whereas others do not.
It's not fair to say "split," but it's fair to say we have different views. Of course, there are views that are conservative, there are views that are more liberal, there are views that can move faster, and those that say we should go slightly slower. I think this is quite healthy and natural. ... What happened is the phase of national safety was only to restore law and order, it wasn't a solution. ... The solution starts now, and it has to be agreed upon by everybody.
L.W.: The dialogue starts July 1?
This is not the first dialogue for Bahrain. We did it 10 years ago, and that led us to getting back our parliament, abolishing the state security law, and led us to press freedom and a lot of things.
L.W.: Your country has a Shiite majority and a Sunni minority, and although you did have those reforms 10 years ago, the Shiites view them as institutionalizing them as second-class citizens.