WASHINGTON, May 17 (Reuters) - A senior U.S. diplomat urged Bahrain's rulers on Tuesday to pursue political dialogue with the opposition and stressed "the importance of full respect for universal human rights," the State Department said.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, the No. 2 official at the State Department, held talks in Bahrain along with Jeffrey Feltman, the department's top Middle East official, and a senior official from the U.S. National Security Council.
"Deputy Secretary Steinberg affirmed the long-standing commitment of the U.S. to a strong partnership with both the people and the government of Bahrain and stressed the importance of full respect for universal human rights," the State Department said.
"He urged all parties to pursue a path of reconciliation and comprehensive political dialogue."
The United States and other Western countries have been accused by rights activists of reacting too softly to the crackdown in Bahrain, which hosts an important U.S. naval base and is seen as a crucial U.S. ally facing Iran.
At least 13 protesters and four police officers died during unrest that gripped the island kingdom in February and March until Bahrain declared martial law and invited in troops from Sunni neighbors to quash anti-government demonstrations. [ID:nLDE74G0M1]
The government has since cracked down on Shi'ite villages and opposition activists, arresting hundreds, and fired hundreds of workers from state-owned companies. At least three people have died in custody.
The government says it has targeted only those who committed crimes during the unrest. (Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Bill Trott)