Bahrain ordered a top U.S. diplomat to leave the country Monday after he met with a leading Shia opposition group.
The Gulf Emirate’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski is no longer welcome in Bahrain. It said he intervened in the country's domestic affairs by holding meetings with some groups at the expense of others.
Bahrain has been rocked by a series of protests by anti-government activists since early 2011. Repeated rounds of political talks have failed to significantly close the rifts between its Sunni monarchy and majority Shia factions seeking greater political standing.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, also Sunni-led monarchies, have had forces deployed there to aid the country's king.
In explaining its actions against the U.S. diplomat, the Foreign Ministry said the meeting held with opposition groups "segregated" the people of the nation. Malinowski’s actions, the statement said, "run counter to conventional diplomatic norms."
It's not the first time a U.S. citizen has run afoul of the country's tensions. In August 2013, the island monarchy exiled an American schoolteacher, after accusing her of writing articles for websites linked to Shia groups.
Despite the current diplomatic spat, the Bahrain’s foreign ministry statement said relations between Manama and the U.S. remain strong and important. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
"The government of Bahrain asserts that this should not in any way affect the two countries' relationship of mutual interests," the statement said.
Malinowski was ordered to leave after meeting with Bahrain's Shia opposition group, Al Wifaq. He arrived in the country on Sunday and was scheduled to stay for three days, but his visit was cut short by the abrupt order to depart a day early.
He also had meetings scheduled with government officials, as well as leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who was released from prison late May after serving two years for taking part in illegal protests.
Rajab told The Associated Press he did not meet Malinowski.
Two U.S. officials in Washington confirmed that Malinowski has been ordered to leave but is still there while the logistics of his departure are worked out. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press