|Donald Trump meets with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud|
As he said that at a news conference, Mr. Tillerson was standing next to the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, who represents a government that does not guarantee free speech or many other rights. When Mr. Tillerson turned to leave, a reporter asked if he had anything to say about human rights in Saudi Arabia. The secretary departed without answering.
President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia underscored the calculation he and his foreign policy advisers have made when it comes to questions of human rights around the world.
Mr. Trump and his team made clear they are willing to publicly overlook repression in places like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states whose leaders are meeting here this weekend — as long as they are allies in areas the president considers more important, namely security and economics.
To the president and his advisers, human rights concerns can be an impediment to the flow of commerce between countries and a barrier to beneficial partnerships for the United States. In their view, trade equals jobs and prosperity, and concern about human rights too often backfires, getting in the way of efforts by the United States government to increase all three.
As they see it, the big mistake that President Barack Obama made was to publicly shame countries rather than to first build working relationships based on common interests. Only then, they say, can the president privately raise human rights concerns. Aides point to Mr. Trump’s success in persuading Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to release an American aid worker.
“We are not here to lecture,” Mr. Trump planned to say in a speech here on Sunday, according to excerpts released by the White House. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values — to pursue a better future for us all.”
Mr. Tillerson outlined the approach during a speech this month to State Department employees that distinguished between American values and American interests. “If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t advocate for and aspire to freedom, human dignity and the treatment of people the world over. We do,” he added. “But that doesn’t mean that’s the case in every situation.”
In Iran’s case, pushing on human rights is an easy decision, since the Trump administration sees little cost. Iran has emerged as one of the top two or three foreign adversaries of the new president, and he is not seeking economic or security ties with Tehran that could be jeopardized.
In Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, Mr. Trump sees an economic partner and the anchor of a Sunni Arab alliance to counter Iranian influence in the region. He announced $110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia on Saturday as well as billions of dollars’ worth of business deals.
But the Saudi human rights record is no better than Iran’s. By some measures, it is worse. Iran just completed an election for president, albeit a flawed one, for an office subordinate to the theocratic supreme leader. Saudi Arabia is ruled by an absolute monarchy that does not meaningfully share power or even allow women to drive.
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Source: The New York Times, Peter Baker, Michael D. Shear, May 20, 2017
Trump avoids pointing to Saudis’ human rights failings
|Donald Trump lavishly praised on the “magnificent” kingdom|
and “the grandeur of this remarkable place.”
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — As President Donald Trump opened his keynote address in Saudi Arabia, he lavished praise on the “magnificent” kingdom and “the grandeur of this remarkable place.”
Then he made clear there would be no public lecture from America on Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record.
“We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship,” Trump declared Sunday.
Trump’s willingness to set aside human rights as a principal foreign policy has been one constant in his chaotic administration. Yet the absence of any public reference to the kingdom’s treatment of women and political opponents during his two-day visit was still jarring, particularly when contrasted with his affectionate embrace of the royal family.
The closest Trump came to acknowledging the human rights situation was a call for the region’s leaders to stand together against “the oppression of women.” A White House official later said the president did raise women’s rights in his private meetings with Saudi officials, and noted that administration officials broached the topic in their talks in the lead-up to the trip. The official insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the private meetings.
To be sure, Trump’s predecessors have also forged close ties with Saudi Arabia, an important U.S. partner in the Middle East, and other nations with questionable human rights records. But in their own ways, former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush each vouched for American values in their dealings with those nations, including the kingdom.
During a 2014 trip to Riyadh, Obama met with a Saudi woman who spread awareness of domestic violence in her country and presented her with the State Department’s International Women of Courage award. His opening address to the Muslim world in 2009 also made numerous references to democracy and human rights.
Human rights were a regular part of the dialogue with the Saudis under the Bush administration. In 2004, the State Department listed the kingdom as “a country of particular concern” in its annual report on International Religious Freedom.
Saudi Arabia adheres to an ultraconservative interpretation of Islamic Shariah law where unrelated men and women are segregated in most public places. Women are banned from driving, although rights advocates have campaigned to lift that ban. Guardianship laws also require a male relative’s consent before a woman can obtain a passport, travel or marry. Often that relative is a father or husband, but in the absence of both can be the woman’s own son.
Saudi Arabia also routinely carries out executions by beheading, including some in public.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, was more direct during an entrepreneurship roundtable with Saudi women Sunday morning, telling the participants that in every country, “women and girls continue to face unique systematic, institutional, cultural barriers, which hinder us from fully engaging in and achieving true parody of opportunity within our communities.”
“Each of you know this to be true,” she said.
Kristine Beckerle, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the first daughter was missing the bigger picture.
“It’s not that entrepreneurship isn’t important, but you need serious political changes so that that the laws that restrict women from functioning in the work place are reversed,” Beckerle said. “Without that, any amount of money or investment won’t go very far.”
Some lawmakers in both parties raised concerns with Trump’s reluctance to publicly vouch for U.S. values in places where people are persecuted.
“I think that would be a terrible abdication of our global leadership when it comes to advocating for people who are the subject of persecution, or imprisoned, or journalists that are thrown in jail, or people not allowed to practice their faith,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on CNN. “I think it would be a historic mistake for us to walk away from that.”
Human rights didn’t go completely unnoticed on Trump’s trip. During a press briefing Saturday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hammered Iran’s newly re-elected president for his government’s oppressive policies.
However, when reporters shouted out questions regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record — namely, one question about when the kingdom intends to allow women to drive — Tillerson ignored it.
Source: The Washington Post, Julie Pace and Vivian Salama, May 22, 2017
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