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White House, others decry Saudi move to deny reporter for Israeli paper on Obama trip

White House, others decry Saudi move to deny reporter for Israeli paper on Obama trip
Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 9:06pm

Saudi Arabia's decision to prevent a Jerusalem Post reporter from covering President Barack Obama's stop in the Gulf Kingdom this week prompted harsh criticism from the White House and others on Tuesday.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said the United States was "very disappointed by the Saudi decision" to deny a visa to Michael Wilner, the Washington bureau chief for the Israeli newspaper.

Rhodes said administration officials protested the decision with Saudi counterparts but were unsuccessful in their appeals.

"We made it clear how important it was to us that this journalist, like any other journalist, have access to cover the President's trip," Rhodes added. "And we'll continue to raise our concerns with the Saudis about why this journalist was denied a visa and about our very strong objections to their decision."

Wilner, a Jewish American who has never held Israeli citizenship, was the only journalist who applied for a Saudi visa to be denied, according to the White House Correspondents Association, which represents reporters who cover Obama.

"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," the group said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia carries out no diplomatic relations with Israel. In an editorial on the Jerusalem Post's website, Wilner said the decision to prevent him from covering Obama's visit to the Gulf nation was likely because he's Jewish.

"I am an American journalist covering the travel of an American president," Wilner said. "We have little doubt that my access was denied either because of my media affiliation or because of my religion. That is a grave disappointment and a lost opportunity for the Kingdom."

Obama travels to Saudi Arabia on Friday, the last stop on a five-country trip that also included the Netherlands, Belgium, the Vatican and Italy.

His stop in Saudi Arabia comes amid worries there over an interim deal between the United States, other world powers and Iran to halt Tehran's nuclear program - an accord that Saudis say was brokered without their input.

The potential for an empowered Shiite regime in Tehran has fueled concerns within the Sunni government in Riyadh, which regards Iran as a regional rival.

Also stirring worries is the cautious U.S. approach in Syria, where rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad have made few gains and security is deteriorating.

A recent spat among the Gulf states - deemed essential to U.S. security interests and major suppliers of oil - only further complicated Washington's ties to the region.

CNN reached out to the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. and did not receive a response. 

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