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 Obama meets Saudi woman activist after reassuring king on ties

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PostSubject: Obama meets Saudi woman activist after reassuring king on ties   Mon Mar 31, 2014 12:31 pm

Obama meets Saudi woman activist after reassuring king on ties

Despite appeals from US lawmakers, Obama did not raise issue of human rights with King Abdullah
US President Barack Obama met a Saudi women’s rights activist on Saturday, the same day women have pledged to defy a driving ban, as he wrapped up a reassurance visit to the longtime ally.
In talks with King Abdullah late on Friday, Obama told his host their two countries remained in lockstep on their strategic interests despite policy differences over Iran and Syria.
But despite appeals from US lawmakers, Obama did not raise the issue of human rights, a senior US official said, instead scheduling Saturday morning’s meeting with Maha Al-Muneef, a prominent campaigner against domestic violence in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.
Muneef was one of 10 women honoured by the US State Department this year for bravery, and Obama took the opportunity to hand her the accolade in person after she was unable to attend an awards ceremony in Washington earlier this month.
Muneef founded the National Family Safety Programme in 2005 to campaign against domestic violence in Saudi Arabia, where activists have long demanded an end to the “absolute authority” over women of their male guardians.
Obama posed with Muneef for photographers, as he praised her efforts “to persuade many that this is an issue that is going to be important to the society over the long term.”
Their meeting, shortly before Obama flew home to Washington, came as Saudi activists called for a new day of defiance of the kingdom’s ban on women driving.
Activist Madiha al-Ajroush told AFP the protest had not been deliberately timed to coincide with Obama’s visit. “We have fixed a day every month to pursue our campaign,” she said.
The action is part of a campaign launched on October 26, when 16 women activists were stopped by police for defying the ban and required to sign pledges before being released not to do so again.
Amnesty International had urged Obama to take a strong stance on the issue during his visit by appointing a woman chauffeur and meeting activists.
“Under its restrictive guardianship system, women need the permission of a male guardian to get married, travel, undergo certain types of surgery, accept paid employment or enrol in higher education,” the London-based watchdog said.
Dozens of US lawmakers had also called on Obama to publicly address Saudi Arabia’s “systematic human rights violations”, including its ban on women drivers.
Iran, Syria dominate talks
The US official said the administration shared many of the concerns but Friday’s meeting was dominated by the three-year-old conflict in Syria and Saudi concerns about Iran.
“We do have a lot of significant concerns about the human rights situation that have been ongoing with respect to women’s rights, with respect to religious freedom, with respect to free and open dialogue,” the official said.
But “given the extent of time that they spent on Iran and Syria, they didn’t get to a number of issues and it wasn’t just human rights.”
Saudi Arabia has strong reservations about efforts by Washington and other major powers to negotiate a deal with Iran on its controversial nuclear programme.
The Sunni Muslim oil kingpin, long wary of Shia Iran’s regional ambitions, views a November deal between the powers and Iran aimed at buying time to negotiate a comprehensive accord as a risky venture that could embolden Tehran.
A supporter of the Syrian rebels, Riyadh was also deeply disappointed by Obama’s 11th-hour decision last year not to take military action against Tehran ally Damascus over chemical weapons attacks.
Obama sought to reassure Abdullah on both issues in Friday’s meeting, telling the king that the strategic interests of the United States and its longtime ally remained “very much aligned”, the US official said.
US officials shot down as untrue reports that Washington was planning to give Riyadh a green light to arm mainstream Syrian rebels with shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, known as Manpads, as a deterrent against regime air strikes.
“We have not changed our position on providing Manpads to the opposition,” an administration official said, saying it posed “a proliferation risk” as the weapons could fall into the hands of jihadists.
Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the talks focused instead on ways to “empower” Syria’s moderate opposition.

Last edited by Ponee on Mon Mar 31, 2014 12:32 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Obama meets Saudi woman activist after reassuring king on ties   Mon Mar 31, 2014 12:32 pm

Obama meets with Saudi king in effort to mend ties
March 28, 2014 BY AGENCIES

President Obama met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Friday in a bid to improve relations that have been seriously strained over the civil war in Syria, negotiations with Iran, and Saudi fears that the United States is pulling back from the region.
Obama met with the king at his desert camp northeast of Riyadh. Secretary of State John Kerry and Susan E. Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, accompanied him to the meeting.
The Obama administration’s relations with the Saudis have been seriously strained in recent months by differences over Syria.
Saudi Arabia and other gulf states have favoured a greater effort to arm and train Syrian rebels who have taken up arms against President Bashar al-Assad. In February, the top American intelligence official told Congress that Assad’s hold on power had been strengthened after he agreed to get rid of his chemical weapons arsenal and the White House shelved plans for a military strike.
Benjamin J. Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Obama’s flight to Riyadh that efforts to strengthen the Syrian opposition, politically and militarily, would be one of the principal topics of discussion on Friday.
“There’s not a specific announcement forthcoming around additional assistance,” said Rhodes, who asserted that progress between Washington and Riyadh had already been made in coordinating “who we’re providing assistance to and what types of assistance we’re providing.”
Rhodes, however, said the United States was still worried about proposals to give the Syrian rebels shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles known as manpads.
“We have made clear that there are certain types of weapons, including manpads, that could pose a proliferation risk if introduced into Syria,” he said. “We continue to have those concerns.”
The Saudis are also anxious about American policy toward Iran, their main regional rival. The United States and five other world powers have signed an interim agreement to temporarily freeze much of Iran’s nuclear program and are trying to negotiate a more comprehensive agreement.
Rhodes said that the United States still had concerns over “Iranian behaviour in the region,” including “its support for Assad, its support for Hezbollah, its destabilizing actions in Yemen and the gulf.”

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PostSubject: Re: Obama meets Saudi woman activist after reassuring king on ties   Mon Mar 31, 2014 12:34 pm

Obama meets Abdullah, considers sending “manpads” to Syrian rebels
March 29, 2014 BY AGENCIES

President Barack Obama is considering allowing shipments of new air defense systems to the Syrian opposition, a US official said, as Obama sought to reassure Saudi Arabia´s king that the US is not taking too soft a stance in Syria and other Mideast conflicts.

A key US ally, Saudi Arabia would be likely to cheer a decision by Obama to allow the portable missile launchers into Syria. Saudi officials were dismayed when Obama scrapped plans last year to launch a strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and they have been pressing the White House on the issue.

The Saudis could play a direct role in sending the systems, known as “manpads,” to the rebels fighting Assad´s forces.

Manpads are compact missile launchers with the range and explosive power to attack low-flying planes and helicopters.

Assad´s forces are known to have them, and some have been brought into Syria by rebels and their sympathizers.

The Saudis have held off providing them in the past because of US opposition. Word of Obama´s potential shift came as Obama was paying a visit to Saudi King Abdullah´s desert oasis at the conclusion of a weeklong, four-country trip.

The aging monarch has been nervously watching Washington´s negotiations with Iran and other US policy developments in the Middle East. Obama´s Marine One helicopter kicked up clouds of sand in his arrival at the king´s desert camp outside the capital of Riyadh for a meeting with Abdullah.

The president walked through a row of military guards to an ornate room featuring a massive crystal chandelier and took a seat next to the 89-year-old king, who was breathing with the help of an oxygen tank.

Secretary of State John Kerry sat at the president´s side for the visit — Obama´s third official meeting with the king in six years.

They met for nearly two hours before Obama and his aides left the compound after dusk.
Despite its decades-long alliance with the United States, Saudi´s royal family has become increasingly anxious in recent years over Obama´s nuclear talks with Iran and his tepid involvement in the Syrian civil war.

During Obama´s evening meetings with the king, the president´s task was to reassure Saudi Arabia that the US is not abandoning Arab interests despite troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, greater energy independence back home and nuclear talks with predominantly Persian Iran.
Allowing manpads to be delivered to Syrian rebels would mark a shift in strategy for the US, which until this point has limited its lethal assistance to small weapons and ammunition, as well as humanitarian aid.
The US has been grappling for ways to boost the rebels, who have lost ground in recent months, allowing Assad to regain a tighter grip on the war-weary nation.

As recently as February, the administration insisted Obama remained opposed to any shipments of manpads to the Syrian opposition.

The US has been concerned that the weaponry could fall into the wrong hands and possibly be used to shoot down a commercial airliner.

Among the reasons for Obama´s shift in thinking is the greater understanding the US now has about the composition of the Syrian rebels, said the US official, who wasn´t authorized to discuss the internal deliberations by name and commented only on condition of anonymity.

Still, the official added, Obama continues to have concerns about escalating the firepower on the ground in Syria, a country that has been torn apart by more than three years of civil war.

The president was not expected to announce a final decision on the matter during his overnight trip to the Gulf kingdom. US and Saudi intelligence officials have been discussing the possibility of injecting manpads into the crisis for some time, including during a meeting in Washington earlier this year.
As for Saudi Arabia, White House officials and Mideast experts say the royal family´s main concern is Iran. The Saudis fear Iran´s nuclear program, object to Iran´s backing of the Assad government in Syria and see the government of Tehran as having designs on oilfields in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One on the flight to Saudi Arabia that the issues at the heart of Obama´s meetings with Abdullah would include Gulf security, Middle East peace, Iran and Egypt.

Rhodes said Obama was updating the king on the nuclear talks with Iran. He said Obama would also make the point that those negotiations do not mean U.S. concerns about other Iranian activities have lessened, including Iran´s support for Assad and Hezbollah, as well as its destabilizing activity in Yemen and the Gulf.

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