Obama meets Saudi woman activist after reassuring king on ties

US President Barack Obama presents Dr. Maha Al-Muneef, founder and executive director of the National Family Safety Program, with the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on March 29, 2014.

RIYADH (AFP) — US President Barack Obama met a Saudi women’s rights activist on Saturday, the same day women have pledged to defy a driving ban, as he wrapped up a reassurance visit to the longtime ally.

In talks with Saudi King Abdullah late on Friday, Obama told his host the two countries remained in lockstep on their strategic interests despite policy differences over Iran and Syria.

But despite appeals from US lawmakers, Obama did not raise the issue of human rights, a senior US official said, instead scheduling Saturday morning’s meeting with Maha Al-Muneef, a prominent campaigner against domestic violence in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.

Muneef was one of 10 women honored by the US State Department this year for bravery, and Obama took the opportunity to hand her the accolade in person after she was unable to attend an awards ceremony in Washington earlier this month.
Amnesty International had urged Obama to take a strong stance on the issue during his visit by appointing a woman chauffeur and meeting activists…