On a visit to meet Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz, President Obama advocated for tolerance and free speech but did not discuss a Saudi blogger's punishment of 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. Judy Woodruff reports.
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The death of a monarch highlights the complicated relationship between two strong allies. But behind praise from the U.S. lie some serious questions about Saudi Arabia's human rights record.
The president stepped off Air Force One on a mission to pay respects to the late King Abdullah, who died Thursday at the age of 90, and to meet with the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz. White House officials said they discussed the Islamic State threat, the chaos in Yemen just to the Saudis' south, and the ongoing dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
At the same time, President Obama walked a fine line on the issue of the Saudi human rights record. An aide said he didn't ask King Salman about a Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.
Instead, the president argued in general for tolerance and free speech, as he told CNN's Fareed Zakaria before arriving in Riyadh:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
What I have found effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure, even as we are getting business done that needs to get done.
And, 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.
The full interview will air on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" this weekend.
On the Saudi side, there are indications that Salman wants stepped-up cooperation with the West, especially on fighting Islamist extremism. An early sign came when he chose 55-year-old Mohammed bin Nayef, a Western-educated minister focused on counterterrorism, to be second in line to the throne.
But the king and his advisers face a balancing act between working with the West and accommodating the country's ultra-conservative brand of Islam. Recent reforms have allowed women into political life, but they are still not permitted to drive cars. And just this week, the Saudis carried out another public beheading, the first under King Salman's rule.
It's notable that later today, a U.S. official said that the new Saudi king didn't raise any objections over American efforts to reach a nuclear deal with the kingdom's regional rival, Iran.