White House expresses 'deep disappointment' after Saudis deny visa to 'Post' journalist

Washington bureau chief Michael Wilner is the only journalist in the White House press corps denied a visa to the kingdom.

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March 25, 2014 09:42
2 minute read.
US President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah in the White House in 2010

US President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah in the White House in 2010. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, DC — The White House expressed "deep disappointment" on Tuesday over Saudi Arabia's decision to deny an entry visa to The Jerusalem Post's Washington bureau chief who was planning to cover President Barack Obama's visit to the desert kingdom this week.

Riyadh on Monday denied a visa to Michael Wilner, who was the only journalist denied despite firmly-worded requests 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.

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"We are deeply disappointed that this credible journalist was denied a visa," US National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said on Tuesday. "We will continue to register our serious concerns about this unfortunate decision."

Rice and Blinken separately expressed extreme displeasure at the delay and the prospect of a denial, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Members of the National Security Council were made aware of the matter after US officials coordinating the trip failed to reach their Saudi counterparts.

Journalists attending the trip were required to submit visa forms to the White House, and not directly to the Saudi embassy. The Kingdom held Wilner’s passport for two weeks, though their embassy's website claims turnaround for visas within 24 hours.

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.

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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.

Wilner was scheduled to arrive in Riyadh by commercial flight on March 26, and leave with the president on March 29.

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