BAHRAIN's Foreign Minister will hold talks with his British counterpart today during a meeting that could pave the way for additional support with reforms.
Among topics on the agenda for the meeting between Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and his opposite number, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, is the relaunch of a joint "working group".
British Ambassador to Bahrain, Iain Lindsay, is accompanying Shaikh Khalid on a visit to the UK and said this year had witnessed an increase in exchanges at the highest levels of government.
"We are discussing a range of bilateral regional issues and obviously the situation in Bahrain," the ambassador told the GDN yesterday in an exclusive interview from London.
"That meeting (between Shaikh Khalid and Mr Hague) is likely to lead to the relaunch of a working group to take forward the UK's assistance to Bahrain in a number of areas - some of the areas, for example, covered by the BICI (Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry) report focusing on reform."
Details of the initiative are due to be announced after today's meeting, which is part of an itinerary that will also see Mr Lindsay brief officials in the British government, the UK parliament and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) on the situation in Bahrain.
Shaikh Khalid and the UK's Lord Astor, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Defence, were guests of honour at the annual dinner of the Bahrain Society last night.
Meanwhile, Mr Lindsay is due to give a speech today to the Middle East Association - which promotes business and economic ties between Britain and the Middle East and North Africa - prior to a workshop it is holding on business opportunities in Bahrain.
"The main focus of the speech I'm giving is on business opportunities and my message is there are business opportunities in Bahrain," said Mr Lindsay.
"We are seeing signs of British companies, new to the market, winning contracts in the last few months, which is very encouraging.
"There are a good number of significant infrastructure and business developments, such as the airport development, Bapco's major capital works project relating to the refinery and Alba with its expansion plans.
"There are many British companies in Bahrain and the region, but it's trying to attract new companies because you need that fresh infusion of blood and Bahrain does have competition aplenty in the region - Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha just to name three.
"It's important from my perspective that Bahrain remains competitive so it can actually attract new businesses."
During the UK visit, Mr Lindsay will be spelling out to potential investors the situation on the ground, but said "sustainable stability" was key to Bahrain attracting companies looking to break into the region.
"People want stability, they want sustainable stability to make those investment decisions," he explained.
"Companies coming into Bahrain will want some reassurance that the business climate, the general political and security climate, is actually getting better - not worse.
"There are plenty of places people can go to other than Bahrain and still do business in Bahrain.
"Bahrain's GCC partners are also its competitors."
With the first anniversary of the release of the BICI report approaching on Friday, Mr Lindsay said the UK had already offered support in implementing the inquiry's recommendations.
"We have offered assistance particularly in the field of judicial reform - this includes support in areas such as capacity building, development of legislation, judicial assistance and advice," he said.
"We are also looking - following the recent visit of the (Bahrain) Human Rights Minister to the UK - at what we can do to help there and also looking at the security sector and forming a close working relationship with the Interior Ministry.
"We are trying to give practical support across a range of areas.
"I think we've had possibly the most intense period of ministerial engagement for many years."
However, he stressed that any solutions to the current impasse must come from within Bahrain.
"The solutions to Bahrain's problems have to be made by Bahrainis, in Bahrain, for Bahrainis," he said.
The current visit by Shaikh Khalid follows other visits to the UK this year by Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa; Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowment Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa; and Minister of State for Human Rights Affairs Dr Saleh Ali.
The UK's Attorney General, Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond have also made trips in the opposite direction.
However, today's meeting between Shaikh Khalid and Mr Hague is taking place just a day after the deadline for people to present written submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Mr Lindsay said that inquiry - which provoked anger from Saudi Arabia - had received a more "positive response" in Bahrain.
It has been launched by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and the ambassador said he expected it to hold a series of hearings early next year, during which Mr Hague or Mr Burt would appear before the committee.
"We've been in discussion with our Bahraini friends since the inquiry was announced and I think there's been a very positive response," he said.
"I think Bahrain and Bahrainis are keen to get their side of the story over.
"It's up to the Bahraini authorities, Bahrainis and friends of Bahrain to decide how they want to interact with the committee.
"I would say it has been a very positive response from all the Bahrainis I've met."
Meanwhile, Mr Lindsay reiterated the UK's calls for a constructive dialogue and an end to violence on Bahrain's streets - adding that time was "not necessarily on Bahrain's side".
"We are doing all that we can with our partners to encourage reform and political dialogue that is clearly needed and trying to encourage - as we have been over the last 18 months - people to turn away from violence," he said.
"Obviously the bomb attacks two weeks ago were a real shock and hopefully people will understand time is not necessarily on Bahrain's side in tackling these issues.
"Our constant message has been that we support His Majesty King Hamad's efforts on taking Bahrain forward on reform and we support political dialogue."
In tomorrow's GDN: the UK Ambassador gives his assessment of the situation one year after the BICI report was launched...