Donald Trump Better Prepare His Speech for His Visit to Saudi Arabia 1

Donald Trump Better Prepare His Speech for His Visit to Saudi Arabia

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U.S. President Donald Trump, departing from his predecessor's practice, is expected to sidestep human rights questions when he meets Gulf Arab leaders at the weekend and focus, to the dismay of beleaguered government critics, on business and security.

His daughter Ivanka will travel with him to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Italy on his upcoming foreign trip, a White House official said.

Civil liberties monitors point to freedom of expression as a right increasingly constrained in Gulf Arab states including summit host Saudi Arabia, which is planning to buy tens of billions of dollars' worth of U.S. arms.

Gulf Arab states began stepping up the muffling of political discussion in the dying months of former president Barack Obama's term and have continued this under Trump, they say.

"Given Trump’s tenuous relationship with freedom of the press and free expression in general, we have no expectation that Trump would raise these issues during his visit," said Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"They're pretty confident they're not going to hear it from Donald Trump."

Gulf Arab officials did not respond to requests for comment on the issue of free expression. But asked about the expected absence of human rights from Trump's agenda, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the issue was one of definition.

Political parties are banned in Saudi Arabia as are protests, unions are illegal, the press is controlled and criticism of the royal family can lead to prison. Riyadh says it does not have political prisoners, while top officials have said monitoring activists is needed to keep social stability.

In a statement on Jan. 15, Bahrain's information minister scolded Gulf media, warning outlets to "shoulder their responsibilities" and counter foreign attempts to "spread sedition" in Gulf states

The foreign trip comes amid tumult for the White House after a series of damaging reports, culminating with the appointment of a special counsel to probe ties between Russia and President Donald Trump's campaign and associates. Many White House aides have been hoping the trip will provide an opportunity for the young administration to refocus.


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