RIYADH, Saudi Arabia(AP) — In a show of solidarity with Saudi Arabia, President Barack Obama led a parade of American dignitaries to the ultraconservative desert kingdom Tuesday to pay respects after King Abdullah's death and take measure of the new monarch.
Obama's presence here underscored the key role Saudi Arabia plays in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and highlighted Washington's willingness to put national security priorities ahead of concerns abouthuman rights issues. Hours before arriving in Riyadh, Obama spoke at length about the importance of women's rights during an address in India, setting up a jarring contrast with his warm embrace of Saudi Arabia, a country where there are strict limits on women's freedom.
Obama, like his recent predecessors, defended his willingness to forge close ties with the kingdom despite its array of human rights issues.
"Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability," Obama said in an interview with CNN.
First lady Michelle Obama accompanied the president during his four-hour visit to Riyadh. She dressed conservatively in black pants and a long jacket, but did not cover her head, which is often standard for Western women visiting the kingdom but forbidden for Saudi women. Some members of the all-male Saudi delegation shook her hand as they greeted the Obamas, while others simply nodded to her as they passed by.
Earlier Tuesday, Obama told an audience of young people in New Delhi that every woman should "be safe and be treated with the respect and dignity that she deserves."
A senior administration official said Obama raised the issue of human rights broadly in his discussions with the king, but did not tackle specific matters, including the case of a Saudi blogger who was convicted of insulting Islam and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes....