White House, correspondents express dismay at Saudi Arabia for blocking journalist

03/26/2014 2:22 AM

03/26/2014 2:41 AM

The White House and a group that argues for greater press access to President Obama were on the same page Tuesday, protesting the Saudi Arabian government’s decision to not issue a visa to a reporter for the Jerusalem Post to cover Obama’s visit.

Michael Wilner, who covers the White House for the newspaper, had signed up to cover Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia on Friday, seeking a visa along with the rest of the White House press corps. But after keeping his American passport for two weeks -- and despite high level pleading from the White House -- the Saudi government wouldn’t issue him a visa.

The White House Correspondents’ Association condemned the decision, calling it “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 dear,” the board’s president, McClatchy’s Steven Thomma and the board said in a statement.

The White House also protested the decision.

“We are deeply disappointed that this credible journalist was denied a visa,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the National Security Council. “We will continue to register our serious concerns about this unfortunate decision.”

The Post reported that the Saudi government refused entry to Wilner, “despite firmly-worded requests to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. from U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and assistant to the president, Tony Blinken.

Wilner is an associate member of the White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents the reporters covering the White House.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama aboard Air Force One that the administration was “very disappointed” and that the White House had made it clear to the Saudis it was important to give the reporter access .

“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.

He said the decision didn’t prompt the White House to reconsider Obama’s trip Friday and Saturday.

Rhodes said the U.S. has disagreements with Saudi Arabia on a number of issues, including Israel and human rights.

“But we also share a significant set of interests with Saudi Arabia,” Rhodes said. “They’re a very important partner of ours in the Gulf, and we believe it's better to have the type of relationship where we can cooperate but also be clear and honest with one another where we have differences.”

The Jersusalem Post in an editorial suggested that the denial was a way of covering over the fact that Saudi Arabia and Israel do have united interests, including preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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