US

In Bahrain, Kerry treads carefully on human rights

  • Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, left, and U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain William Roebuck, right, greets U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second right, as he arrives aboard his plane at Bahrain International Airport in Manama, Bahrain April 6, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)

    Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, left, and U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain William Roebuck, right, greets U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second right, as he arrives aboard his plane at Bahrain International Airport in Manama, Bahrain April 6, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Secretary of State John Kerry tours the Naval Support Activity Bahrain base in the Gulf, in Manama, Bahrain, Thursday, April 7, 2016.  (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

    Secretary of State John Kerry tours the Naval Support Activity Bahrain base in the Gulf, in Manama, Bahrain, Thursday, April 7, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Secretary of State John Kerry talks with U.S. Navy sailors aboard a ship during a tour at the Naval Support Activity Bahrain base in the Gulf, in Manama, Bahrain, Thursday, April 7, 2016.  (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

    Secretary of State John Kerry talks with U.S. Navy sailors aboard a ship during a tour at the Naval Support Activity Bahrain base in the Gulf, in Manama, Bahrain, Thursday, April 7, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)  (The Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is dealing delicately with human rights in Bahrain.

Making the first visit to the Persian Gulf kingdom by a top American diplomat since its 2011 uprising, Kerry says the Sunni monarchy is a "critical security partner."

He is praising Bahrain's king for pushing human rights, while saying more needed to be done to ensure inclusivity. And he is criticizing Bahrain's opposition for boycotting previous elections, which "polarizes things."

Human rights groups wanted tougher criticism of the government. They say it represses and discriminates against Bahrain's Shiite majority, citing nonviolent protesters serving jail terms.

Ahead of a larger U.S.-Gulf meeting Thursday, Kerry and Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa also discussed Syria and Yemen's wars, fighting the Islamic State and containing Iran.