Barack Obama arrives in Saudi Arabia to pay respects to late King Abdullah
President Barack Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia’s new King Abdullah after the death of King Abdullah.
Barack Obama cut short a trip to India to make time for the visit.
The president is being accompanied by prominent Republican officials, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and Condoleezza Rice.
Saudi Arabia is a key US ally in a region riven by war and rivalries.
Barack Obama had been due to visit the Taj Mahal in India on January 27, but had to cancel to allow for the four-hour visit to Riyadh.
In an interview with CNN before he left India, Barack Obama suggested he would be unlikely to raise the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison last May for “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience”.
Barack Obama’s visit would focus on “paying respects to King Abdullah, who in his own fashion represented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom”, the president added.
On human rights, Barack Obama said: “We have maintained a sustained dialogue with the Saudis and with all the other countries we work with. 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.”
Also among the 30-strong US delegation are CIA director John Brennan, John McCain, the Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, and Republican former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Saudi Arabia is among the US-led coalition of Western and Arab nations conducting air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.
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