Obama defends US ties as he pays respects in Saudi Arabia

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...

17 PHOTOS
Obama Saufia Arabia King Abdullah
See Gallery
Obama defends US ties as he pays respects in Saudi Arabia
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) speaks with Saudi's newly appointed King Salman (2R) as US President Barack Obama (2L) and First Lady Michelle Obama (L) listen on at Erga Palace in Riyadh on January 27, 2015. Obama landed in Saudi Arabia with his wife First Lady Michelle Obama to shore up ties with King Salman and offer condolences after the death of his predecessor Abdullah. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Toby Jones says contrary to how he is being eulogized, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia built an oppressive regime that violated human rights and cozied up to terrorism
Air Force One transporting US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama lands at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 27, 2015. Obama left New Delhi following a 3-day trip centered around the annual Republic Day festivities, and arrives in Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi's new King Salman. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (C) walks alongside Saudi's newly appointed King Salman (C-R) at Erga Palace in Riyadh on January 27, 2015 following his arrival in Saudi Arabia. Obama landed in Saudi Arabia with his wife First Lady Michelle Obama to shore up ties with King Salman and offer condolences after the death of his predecessor Abdullah. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Saudi's newly appointed King Salman (R) shakes hands with US President Barack Obama at Erga Palace in Riyadh on January 27, 2015. Obama landed in Saudi Arabia with his wife First Lady Michelle Obama to shore up ties with King Salman and offer condolences after the death of his predecessor Abdullah. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama shakes hands with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, center, as she greets Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, left, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The president, first lady, and a delegation came to expresses their condolences on the death of the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Saudi King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz walks to meet President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama as they arrive on Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The president came to expresses condolences on the death of the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stand with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz in a receiving line on arrival to King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The president came to expresses condolences on the death of the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama, right, stands with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, second from right, as former Secretary of State James Baker greets the new Saudi Arabian King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The president and first lady and a delegation have come to expresses their condolences on the death of the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama participates in a receiving line with the new Saudi Arabian King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The president and first lady have come to expresses their condolences on the death of the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama stands at left as Secretary of State John Kerry, right, greets new Saudi Arabian King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The president and first lady and a delegation including Kerry have come to express their condolences on the death of the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama walks to a bilateral meeting with new Saudi Arabian King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The president has come to expresses condolences on the death of the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., greets new Saudi Arabian King, Salman bin Abdul Aziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The president and first lady have come with a delegation including McCain, to expresses condolences on the death of the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stand with new Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz they arrive on Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama stands with new Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz for a receiving line as the president and first lady Michelle Obama arrive on Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama shakes hands with new Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz upon his arrival on Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama is greeted by new Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz as the president and first lady Michelle Obama arrive on Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- President Barack Obama defended the U.S. government's willingness to cooperate closely with Saudi Arabia on national security despite deep concerns over human rights abuses, as he joined an array of current and former American statesmen Tuesday in paying respects following the death of King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia's status as one of Washington's most important Arab allies has at times appeared to trump U.S. concerns about the terrorist funding that flows from the kingdom and about human rights abuses. But in his meeting with Saudi Arabia's new king, Obama brought up human rights only in broad terms, without citing specific cases, a senior Obama administration official said.

Obama, in a CNN interview in advance of his arrival, said he has found it most effective to apply steady pressure over human rights "even as we are getting business done that needs to get done."

"Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability," Obama said.

During his brief stop in Riyadh, Obama held his first formal meeting with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud Salman, newly installed on the throne following the death of the 90-year-old Abdullah on Friday. The roughly hour-long meeting focused on a bevy of Mideast security issues - sectarian divisions in Iraq, the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State group, the precarious situation in Yemen and support for Syrian opposition fighting President Bashar Assad, said the U.S. official who briefed reporters traveling with Obama on condition of anonymity, citing the private nature of the talks.

Obama invoked human rights during the sit-down to make the point that tolerance and free speech are necessary to undercut the extremist ideology that fuels terrorist groups. The official said Obama told the king that it's important to ensure citizens have an outlet to express themselves.

But the president did not bring up U.S. concerns about Saudi Arabia's flogging of blogger Raif Badawi, who was convicted of insulting Islam and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. His first flogging took place in early January in front of dozens of people in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, though a second round has been postponed after a doctor said his wounds from the first lashes had not yet healed.

"On this visit, obviously a lot of this is just paying respects to King Abdullah, who in his own fashion presented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom," Obama said before the visit.

Stepping off the plane earlier in Riyadh, the president and first lady Michelle Obama were greeted by Salman and a military band playing both countries' national anthems. Some of the all-male Saudi delegation shook hands with Mrs. Obama while others gave her a nod as they passed by. Mrs. Obama wore full-length clothing but no headscarf, as is typical for many Western women in Saudi Arabia, despite the strict dress code for Saudi women appearing in public.

Salman formally greeted Obama and the U.S. delegation at the Erga Palace on the outskirts of Riyadh, where dozens of Saudi officials filed through a marble-walled room to greet the Americans under massive crystal chandeliers. Then they sat for a three-course dinner of grilled meats, baked lobster and Arabic and French deserts.

Obama cut short his trip to India to spend just a few hours in Riyadh. Further underscoring Saudi Arabia's key role in U.S. foreign policy was the extensive delegation that joined Obama for the visit.

Secretary of State John Kerry joined Obama in Riyadh, along with former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and James Baker III, both of whom served Republican presidents. Former White House national security advisers Brent Scowcroft, Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley also made the trip, as did Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a frequent critic of Obama's Mideast policy.

CIA Director John Brennan and Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, which overseas military activity in the Middle East, were also taking part in Tuesday's meetings with the Saudis.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have worked in close coordination to address evolving security concerns in the tumultuous region. Most recently, Saudi Arabia became one of a handful of Arab nations that have joined the U.S. in launching airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Yet Obama's presidency has also been marked by occasional strains with the Saudi royal family.

Abdullah had pressed the U.S. to take more aggressive action to force Assad from power. The royal family has also been deeply skeptical of Obama's diplomacy with rival Iran. But the senior U.S. official said Salman did not express reservations about ongoing nuclear negotiations with Tehran, merely stating that Iran must not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.

In his initial days on the throne, the 79-year-old Salman has given little indication that he plans to bring fundamental changes to his country's policies. He's vowed to hew to "the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment."

---

Read Full Story

People are Reading