The government of Saudi Arabia is refusing to let a White House reporter for the Jerusalem Post enter the country to cover President Obama’s visit, leaving the administration “very disappointed.”
The White House Correspondents’ Association has gone public with a complaint, calling a Saudi decision “outrageous” to deny a visa to Michael Wilner, the Jerusalem Post’s Washington bureau chief.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes declared the U.S. government was “very disappointed by the Saudi decision.”
Rhodes told reporters on Air Force One that the White House made it clear to the Saudis the importance of the Jerusalem Post reporter’s access to the trip.
“It certainly should not be the case that the affiliation of a journalist should in any way count against their ability to do their job, just because they work for the Jerusalem Post,” Rhodes said.
But the decision did not prompt the White House to reconsider Obama’s stop in the country. He is scheduled to arrive there Friday and meet with His Majesty Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Saudi Arabia is an important partner to the United States, Rhodes told reporters, but “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.”
Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf also weighed in today.
“We’re deeply disappointed that this journalist — obviously, this credible journalist that’s in this room, in the second row often, was denied a visa,” Harf said. “We will continue to register serious concerns about this unfortunate decision with the Saudi government. I don’t have more details in terms of what those discussions have looked like, but suffice to say, we are raising it and are concerned about it.”
According to a report in the Jerusalem Post:
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.
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.
Wilner, who had reportedly planned to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and depart with President Obama, has been tweeting extensively about his visa situation:
— Michael Wilner (@mawilner) March 25, 2014
Here’s the full memo from Steve Thomma of McClatchy newspapers, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association:
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
ABC’s Ali Weinberg contributed reporting.