President Obama on Tuesday declined to commit to raising the issue of a jailed Saudi opposition blogger while visiting the kingdom to offer condolences following the death of King Abdullah.
“I think on this visit, a lot of this is just paying respects to King Abdullah, who in his own fashion represented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom,” Obama said in an interview with CNN.
The president said the U.S. had “maintained a sustained dialogue with the Saudis and all the other countries that we’ve worked with” on human rights issues.
“What I’ve found is effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure, even as we are getting business done that needs to get done,” Obama said.
“Oftentimes, that makes some of our allies uncomfortable; it makes them frustrated. Sometimes, we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability.”
Raif Badawi, the blogger, has generated international attention after his arrest and conviction for writing about the kingdom’s religious law. Badawi received the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes earlier this week, but additional physical punishment has been postponed because of medical concerns.
Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes also sidestepped when asked if Obama would raise Badawi’s case earlier this week.
“Without knowing exactly what the extent of the meetings and consultations will be and what the precise agenda will be, I can’t speak to individual cases,” he said. “But I think it will certainly be the case that human rights will be on the agenda with Saudi Arabia going forward, and we raise these types of individual case with Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.”
Administration officials have said that they do plan to raise both joint efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the instability in Yemen during Obama’s visit with the new King Salman.