President Barack Obama has defended the US government’s willingness to cooperate closely with Saudi Arabia on national security despite deep concerns over human rights abuses.
The President was leading an array of current and former American statesmen in paying respects following the death of King Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia’s status as one of Washington’s most important Arab allies has at times appeared to trump US concerns about the terrorist funding that flows from the kingdom and about human rights abuses.
But President Obama said he has found it most effective to apply steady pressure over human rights “even as we are getting business done that needs to get done”.
“Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counter-terrorism or dealing with regional stability,” Mr Obama said in a CNN interview that aired in advance of his arrival in Riyadh.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama stepped off their plane the Riyadh airport’s modern VIP terminal and onto a red carpet, where they were greeted by new King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. A few dozen Saudi officials paraded past the Obamas after a military band played both countries’ national anthems.
Some of the all-male Saudi delegation shook hands with Mrs Obama while others gave her a nod as they passed by.
Mrs Obama wore full-length clothing but no headscarf, as is typical for many Western women in Saudi Arabia, despite the strict dress code for Saudi women appearing in public.
During his four-hour stop in Saudi Arabia, President Obama was to hold his first formal meeting with Salman, and then attend a dinner with other Saudi officials at the Erga Palace.
President Obama suggested that during those conversations, he would not be raising US concerns about Saudi Arabia’s flogging of blogger Raif Badawi, who was convicted of insulting Islam and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.
His first flogging took place in early January in front of dozens of people in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, though a second round has been postponed after a doctor said his wounds from the first lashes had not yet healed.