When President Obama lands in Saudi Arabia later this week, the only member of the White House press corps denied access to Saudi Arabia will be Jerusalem Post White House reporter and Washington bureau chief Michael Wilner. Wilner was denied a visa to enter the country despite personal pleas from US National Security Advisor Susan Rice and assistant to the president Tony Blinken to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir.
According to JPost, journalists attending the trip were required to submit visa forms to the White House, and not directly to the Saudi embassy. Despite a promise to turn around visa requests within 24 hours the Saudi kingdom held Wilner’s passport for two weeks.
Saudi Arabia does not typically grant journalist visas, and suspended tourist visas in 2010. In 2011, the Kingdom issued a statement denying that they did or had ever denied Americans entry based on religion.
Reached for comment by phone, the Saudi counselor only told The Jerusalem Post that “the decision has been made” and said the Kingdom would decline to elaborate further. Obama administration officials privately acknowledged the media outlet was discriminated against.
Wilner, a Jewish American, works for the Israeli English-language newspaper, but does not hold Israeli citizenship and has never lived in the Jewish state. Saudi Arabia has no official relationship with the government of Israel.
Saudi officials were given a deadline of Monday, March 24 to decide whether to grant access to Wilner, who planned on traveling that night. They decided at the last minute not to issue the visa.
Journalists with similar backgrounds have filed from Saudi Arabia before, beginning with David Makovsky, for The Jerusalem Post, in 1994. Wolf Blitzer, a predecessor of Wilner’s, was also granted access to Jordan prior to the signing of its peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
he White House Correspondents Association sent a stern condemnation to Saudi Arabia Tuesday after learning of the Saudi denial:
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“It is outrageous that the Saudi government has refused to allow a White House reporter entry to the country to cover this week’s visit of President Barack Obama,” WHCA president and McClatchy reporter Steve Thomma said in a statement. “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.”
Deputy Natl Security Advisor Ben Rhodes also issued a statement about the visa denial:
“We were very disappointed by the Saudi decision,” he said. The White House made it clear to the Saudis the importance that the Jerusalem Post reporter have access to cover the trip. “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.”
The decision did not prompt any the White House to reconsider Mr. Obama’s stop in Saudi Arabia Friday and Saturday.
Saudi Arabia is a very important partner to the U.S. But, he said: “We believe its better to have the type of relation where we can cooperate but also be clear and honest with one another where we have differences.”
And the Saudis are considered moderate.