State Dept.: Saudi Arabia ‘a Key Partner in the Fight Against Terrorism in the Region’

Gorani: ‘Clearly it doesn’t sound that Saudi Arabia cares one bit about what America is telling them’

KIRBY: "Well, we don’t get too much into the details of diplomatic conversations but I can tell you that we have long made our concerns  knowing about the legal process there in Saudi Arabia and our concern about human rights in general there. And again, you can read it on our human rights report on our website, I mean this is all very, very clearly documented. We had made concerns prior to this mass execution. I had made specific concerns about the al-Nimr cases, not just the uncle but the nephew as well. This is something that we’ve been mindful of. And again, without getting into too much detail of what was communicated, certainly  our concerns about the — those two particular cases were made very well known."
GORANI: "But Saudi Arabia executed Nimr al-Nimr anyway, despite the fact that you communicated to the country that you were concern, so clearly it  doesn’t sound that Saudi Arabia cares one bit about what America is telling them."
KIRBY: "I don’t know that I would say that, I mean obviously we are still concern about what happened here over the weekend, no question about that. And we’re in constant communication with leaders across the region, not just in Saudi Arabia but in Iran and elsewhere. But, Saudi Arabia is a key partner and a key friend in the region. They are a member of the coalition going after ISIL. They had been enormously helpful in a leadership role in trying to move the political process forward in Syria. They hosted a big conference just before the holidays in Riyadh of 116 opposition groups from Syria to try to get them unified around some common negotiating principles that we think and we hope that those participants will be able to take forward to the Assad regime later this month. So, look, we’re not going to agree on every end but Saudi Arabia is a key partner, a key friend in the region and we’re going to work at this relationship."
GORANI: "But that’s a pretty big thing to disagree on, mass executions and the executions that are seen as politically motivated of important Shiite clerics in Saudi Arabia. Many of the critics of the United States relationship with Saudi, say look — Human Rights Watch for instance, they’re saying, 'Look if you’re so concern about the human rights records of Saudi Arabia, why does the U.S. continue to sell it arms, the deal is worth more than a billion dollars, why not try to put some sort of real pressure on that country, how would you react to that criticism?'"
KIRBY: "Well, it’s a complex relationship as most major bilateral relationships are. Again, they are a key partner in the fights against terrorism in the region. And so, the provision of some of these equipment and material is important to help in that fight, there’s no questions about that. And we don’t agree on everything, and what we don’t agree we disagree, we have enough of a candid relationship with the Saudis that we’re able to state those concerns. As they said, not just privately but also publicly, I won’t get into speculating about decisions and repercussions and this isn’t a time for treats, in fact, this is exactly the time for calm and for some stability here, for tensions to be deescalated not escalated and we certainly don’t want to do anything that would contribute to escalating tensions right now. But again, I don’t want to say that we’re turning a blind eye to our concerns either, we have not, and we have made those concerns very, very well know and we’ll continue to do so."
GORANI: "But beyond expressing concerns verbally, is there any other strategy to approach Saudi Arabia in light of what’s happening now with regards to not just the executions but to it’s relationship with Iran of escalating tension, what is the narrative --"
KIRBY: "Well again --"
GORANI: "-- approach here going forward beyond just statements?"
KIRBY: "Well our approach right now is to work with leaders throughout the region, to try to find ways bilaterally for them, to disengage from the violence and to decrease the tensions and to begin to focus on really key pressing issues in the region, Iraq, in Syria, the counter-radicalization fight, Yemen. There’s a lot of things that we need to move forward on and we want to move forward diplomatically and peacefully. So our strategy right now, understanding that there’s a lot of tension, is engage at all levels, all the way up to Secretary Kerry and down, and all level in the State Department with local leaders and regional leaders there in the Middle East, to help them get to a diplomatic bilateral solutions of their own."

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