- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
The Bush administration, in a move likely to anger both conservatives and human rights activists, has decided not to blacklist Saudi Arabia over the issue of religious freedom, Newsweek reported in its edition to be released today.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is expected to shortly release a list of "countries of particular concern" that the United States says engage in "systematic, ongoing and egregious" violations of religious freedom, the weekly reported.
But after contentious debate with the administration of President Bush and against the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Saudi Arabia will be conspicuously absent from the list.
The commission found that with the downfall of the Taliban, Saudi Arabia "is probably the worst oppressor of religious rights in the world," according to Newsweek.
"I'm appalled and disappointed," commission Chairman Felice Gaer is quoted as saying about the omission. "But I'm not surprised."
Lawmakers and religious conservatives have been increasingly vocal about their displeasure with Saudi Arabia of late, and the magazine said White House aides have described religious freedom there as "a high-priority item for evangelical Christians."
But the administration decided that it would be counterproductive to criticize the Saudis on the issue now, and that such a move "might interfere with broader U.S. interests in the region."

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