- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

While President Obama has spoken out repeatedly for greater human rights protections in countries all around the world, on Tuesday he found himself defending the close U.S. relationship with a nation that doesn’t even allow women to drive.

As he traveled to Saudi Arabia to pay his respects to the late King Abdullah, who died last week, Mr. Obama said the U.S. must balance its focus on human rights and equality with other vital issues, such as combating terrorism. Saudi Arabia has become an ally in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State, and the Obama administration and its allies also continue to court the Saudis’ help in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

As Mr. Obama landed in Riyadh and was greeted by the country’s new king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, he tried to explain the complicated U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. He also promised to continue to pressure the Saudis to correct human rights abuses and embrace a more modern world view.

“What I’ve found effective is to apply steady, consistent pressure, even as we are getting business done that needs to get done. And often times that makes some of our allies uncomfortable, it makes them frustrated,” Mr. Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview that aired Tuesday. The interview was filmed before the president left India for Riyadh.

“Sometimes we have to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of countering terrorism and regional stability,” he continued. “But the trend line is one I will sustain throughout the rest of my presidency. And that is to make an argument to those friends and allies of ours that if they want a society that is going to be able to sustain itself in this age, they’re going to have to change how they do business.”

Mr. Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, and other U.S. lawmakers and officials are in Riyadh on Tuesday to pay respect to Abdullah.

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