Bush Administration Waives Actions Against Saudi Arabia
About a month ago, JABBS asked why the Bush Administration hadn't followed up, as required by law, on its designation of Saudi Arabia as a "country of particular concern” for “severe religious freedom violations” pursuant to International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA).
Under IRFA, the administration was supposed to take action late last year, or 90 days after making its designation. There are 15 potential actions the IRFA allows.
Now, roughly a year after the designation was made, the Bush Administration has taken action -- and that action is no action, at least for another six months.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice notified Congress last week that she had authorized a 180-day waiver of action against Saudi Arabia "in order to allow additional time for the continuation of discussions leading to progress on important religious freedom issues."
The decision came after Rice met in Washington with -- and we have to assume, was impressed by -- the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. Rice and the prince stressed the importance of "continuing to work on this issue," spokesman Kurtis Cooper said.
At the time of its designation last year as a "country of particular concern," the action was applauded -- especially given the close ties between the Bush family and the Saudi leadership. But the waivers do little to change the perception that the designation was an empty action -- perhaps done only to score points during a heated presidential campaign.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal agency established by Congress in 1998 to promote religious freedom around the world, had been recommending that Saudi Arabia be designated a "country of particular concern" since its formation. The reasons? Saudi violations of religious freedom within its own borders, and also reports of its propagation and export of an ideology of religious hate and intolerance throughout the world.
Reacting to Rice's decision, the commission issued a statement, saying real progress was absent in Saudi Arabia on religious conditions and that the U.S. government should use the 180 days to achieve real progress. Otherwise, the commission said licenses should not be issued for exports to Saudi Arabia of technology that could be used in military programs, and Saudi officials responsible for religious freedom violations should not be permitted to visit the United States.
In a related move also last week, President Bush waived financial sanctions on Saudi Arabia for failing to make significant efforts to stop slave trade in prostitutes, child sex workers and forced laborers. That waiver will last for three months.
Saudi Arabia was one of 14 countries listed by the State Department in June as failing to adequately address the problem. But Bush decided it was not in the national interest of the United States to punish Saudi Arabia, as well as Kuwait and Ecuador.
Why is it not in the "national interest?" We know it's not because of its work on religious freedom. Is it because Saudi Arabia has done so much to fight terrorism? Nope. Bring Al Qaeda to justice? Nope. Stopped fighters from crossing the border into Iraq to join the insurgency? Nope. How about helping the U.S. to keep oil prices in check in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita? Nope.
I suppose our official policy is that the Saudis will "continue to work" on that issue, too.
Compare the decision to provide the Saudis with a waiver with the praise given the Bush Administration in this 2002 Congressional report:
"The Bush administration and the 107th Congress have continued to give priority to the trafficking problem (and) focus attention on the problem. The State Department issued its first Congressionally mandated report on worldwide trafficking in July 2001. It categorized countries according to the efforts they were making to combat trafficking. Those countries that do not cooperate in the fight against trafficking could face U.S. sanctions, starting in 2003," the report reads.
And, truth be told, Bush has followed through -- on 11 of 14 countries that have been cited.
But Saudi Arabia? Nope.