US criticizes Saudi for barring Israeli paper reporter
Barack Obama - AFP
AFP

BRUSSELS: The White House on Tuesday criticized Saudi Arabia for refusing a visa to a journalist working for Israeli media who planned to cover President Barack Obama’s visit to the kingdom.

The Jerusalem Post said that its Washington bureau chief, U.S. citizen Michael Wilner, was the only journalist to be denied a visa to Saudi Arabia to cover Obama’s brief visit Friday.

“We were very disappointed by the Saudi decision,” U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Obama’s current leg of the trip in Belgium.

“It certainly should not be the case that the affiliation of a journalist should in any way count against their ability to do their job, just because they work for The Jerusalem Post,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said that the White House made clear its concerns to Saudi Arabia. The Jerusalem Post said in an editorial that top U.S. officials including national security adviser Susan Rice personally appealed to the kingdom to issue a visa.

Wilner, as quoted in the editorial, said he was “an American journalist covering the travel of an American president,” and that he had “little doubt that my access was denied either because of my media affiliation of because of my religion.”

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The White House Correspondents Association said that the refusal of the visa to Wilner, who planned to travel directly to Saudi Arabia, was “outrageous.”

“The denial is an affront not only to this journalist, but to the entire White House press corps and to the principle of freedom of the press that we hold so dear,” it said.

Obama is expected to use his trip to Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally on defense and energy, to reassure the kingdom over Syria and Iran.

The strict Islamic kingdom is a staunch supporter of mostly Sunni rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, while Obama has been cautious about deeper US involvement in the civil war.

The Obama administration has meanwhile been negotiating to seek a peaceful resolution of concerns over the contested nuclear program in Iran, a regional rival of Saudi Arabia.

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