Imprisoned blogger not on Obama agenda

President Obama did not directly raise the case of an opposition blogger sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes when he met Tuesday with Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman.

Obama did told the kingdom’s new leader it was important to ensure “that civil society can take hold,” and that such “an outlet” could serve as “an important antidote to the extremism we’ve seen take root” in the Middle East, a senior administration official said.

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Human rights groups had urged Obama, who was visiting Saudi Arabia to pay respects after the death of King Abdullah, to press the new government to halt the punishment of Raif Badawi, who generated international attention after his arrest and conviction for writing about the kingdom’s religious law. 

Badawi received the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes earlier this month, but additional physical punishment has been postponed because of medical concerns.

Before he left India for the short visit to Saudi Arabia, Obama was asked about whether he’d raise Badawi in his meetings.

“I think on this visit a lot of this is just paying respects to King Abdullah who in his own fashion represented some modest reform efforts within the kingdom,” Obama said in an interview with CNN.

The president said the U.S. had “maintained a sustained dialogue with the Saudis and all the other countries that we’ve worked with” on human rights issues.

“What I’ve found is effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure even as we are getting business done that needs to get done,” Obama said. 

During their meeting Tuesday, Obama and Salman discussed joint counterterrorism efforts, the need to continue supporting the opposition in Syria, and unity efforts in Iraq. Saudi Arabia has participated in airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria targets and provided a training base for moderate Syrian rebels.

The pair also discussed the political turmoil in Yemen, where the pro-Saudi government was recently unseated, as well as the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. And there was a brief discussion of oil markets, where the Saudis have proven instrumental at depressing prices. 

The pair were “really just providing kind of the framework for how they’re looking at the key issues that the United States and Saudi Arabia are dealing with in the region and hitting some of the wavetops of those issues,” the administration official said.