The Saudi government refused to issue a visa so the Washington Bureau Chief for the Jerusalem Post could cover President Barack Obama’s trip there later this week, a move the White House Correspondents’ Association called “outrageous” in a statement issued on Tuesday.
The Jerusalem Post said in a Monday story that their bureau chief, Michael Wilner, “is the only journalist in the White House press corps denied a visa to the kingdom. …Wilner, who was the only journalist denied access to the president’s trip, 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.
“…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.”
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama en route to Belgium, the Saudi Arabia visit will not be reconsidered in the wake of the refusal of the Saudi government to grant a visa to a reporter from an Israeli newspaper.
“No. Look, we have disagreements with Saudi Arabia on a number of issues. We obviously have had disagreements in the past as it relates to some issues associated with Israel, some issues associated with human rights. But we also share a significant set of interests with Saudi Arabia. They’re a very important partner of ours in the Gulf, and we believe it’s better to have the type of relationship where we can cooperate but also be clear and honest with one another where we have differences,” Rhodes said.
The WHCA, an organization representing the White House press corps–Wilner is a member of the group–said in a statement:
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.
Michael Wilner, who covers the White House for the Jerusalem Post, had signed up to cover the visit and sought a visa along with the rest of the White House Press corps.
On Monday, he was the only one denied a visa. He had planned to travel straight to Saudi Arabia to cover that part of the president’s trip.
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 White House also protested the denial.
“We are deeply disappointed that this credible journalist was denied a visa,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the National Security Council. “We will continue to register our serious concerns about this unfortunate decision.”
The Post reported that the Saudi government refused entry to Wilner, “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….
“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.”
Wilner is an associate member of the White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents the White House press corps.
-Steve Thomma and the board of the WHCA