The White House said it was “deeply disappointed” and a journalists’ group said it was outraged after Saudi Arabia denied a visa to a US citizen working for Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post to cover President Barack Obama’s trip to the kingdom later this week.
Washington’s criticism came after the newspaper’s Washington bureau chief, Michael Wilner, was the only journalist to be denied a visa.
“We were very disappointed by the Saudi decision,” US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Obama’s current leg of his trip to Europe.
It is outrageous that the Saudi government has refused to allow a White House reporter entry to the country.
Wilner, an American journalist working for the Israeli publication said in an editorial on the paper’s website he had “little doubt that my access was denied either because of my media affiliation or because of my religion.”
The Jerusalem Post said top US officials including national security adviser Susan Rice had personally appealed to the Kingdom to issue a visa.
The paper said Wilner, a Jewish American, does not hold Israeli citizenship and has never lived in Israel.
The White House Correspondents’ Association, a group that represents journalists, said the refusal of the visa to Wilner, who planned to travel directly to Saudi Arabia, was “outrageous.”
“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,” the group said in a statement.
“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,” it added.
Saudi Arabia does not recognise Israel, but has said it is willing to change that if Israel agrees to a peace plan it proposed that involved creating a Palestinian state and allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes.
President Barack Obama is expected to use his trip to Saudi Arabia later this week to discuss a range of security issues in the Middle East.
The visit, which comes at the end of Obama’s trip to Europe, will include discussions with King Abdullah about regional security, peace in the Middle East and countering violent extremism.
A long-time ally of the US on defense and energy, in October, Saudi’s intelligence chief said the Kingdom was looking at making a “major shift” in relations with the US.
King Abdullah met Secretary of State John Kerry in November and discussed concerns about the unwillingness of the US to intervene in Syria and recent overtures towards Iran.
The Obama administration has been negotiating to seek a peaceful resolution of concerns over the contested nuclear programme in Iran, a regional rival of Saudi Arabia.