By Jake Lippincott
In an informal “gaggle” style meeting with the press on Friday, the United States Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes addressed American Middle Eastern policy.
The meeting, which took place in Air Force 1 en route to Saudi Arabia, touched on American domestic issues around health care policy and broader international issues, like the crises in Ukraine, but focused on America’s role in the Middle East.
Speaking for the White House, Rhodes said that the visit with the Saudis is “an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the relationship, to talk about Gulf security, Syria, Iran, Middle East peace, and other regional developments, in Egypt for instance”.
Rhodes addressed an apparent rift that has opened up in America and Saudi Arabia over the proper response to the July 2013 overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi. He said that America ”share[s] the Saudi interest in a stable Egypt, but we have always said and continue to say that stability will be well served by Egypt sticking to a democratic roadmap.”
Rhodes went on to criticise the human rights record of the military-backed interim government. “We, of course, continue to have concerns about things like the detention of journalists, of political activists, and, for instance, the recent announcement of the death sentences for such a shockingly large number of people.”
Rhodes added: “Our point on Egypt is going to be that we have a shared interest in stability; the United States wants to have a strong relationship with Egypt, but that stability ultimately is going to be best served by Egypt following through on its commitment to transition to free and fair elections and democratic governance.”
Rhodes also addressed disagreements between the Saudis and Americans on arming the Syrian opposition and sidestepped questions about Saudi humans rights abuses. When asked by a reporter if “some of the things that you just said about Egypt also apply to Saudi Arabia”, Rhodes said that while America has a ”commitment to human rights [and] to universal values” the American government has “the ability to cooperate with [the Saudis] on a very broad political and security agenda”, regardless of humans rights abuses.