WASHINGTON, AP – Saudi Arabia is making progress in removing bigoted references to religious minorities in school textbooks, and U.S. trade sanctions will continue to be withheld, the State Department said Wednesday.
“We are very pleased with the reforms that King Abdullah and his government have been making,” said John Hanford, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
“There still are some repugnant references,” and Muslims as well as non-Muslims are among the targets, he said.
Hanford, who spoke to reporters amid briefings for members of Congress and their staffs, said he had found senior Saudi officials with whom he met sincere in eliminating “textbook intolerance.”
“They agreed the language is inexcusable,” he said.
It will take a year or two to complete a comprehensive review by Saudi officials of the text books, Hanford said.
Among the promises elicited from the Saudis are prohibiting the use of government funds for intolerant text books, retraining school principals and teachers, retraining or reassigning imams who espouse intolerance, and incorporating human rights education into the standard education curricula, the U.S. official said.
Last November, the State Department cited Saudi Arabia for denying religious freedom to non-Muslims and found fault to a lesser degree with other allies including Israel, Belgium, France, Germany and Pakistan. But sanctions were not imposed.
“In far too many countries, governments fail to safeguard religious freedom,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in releasing a survey of 197 countries and territories.
Eight countries found to be of “particular concern” were Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam.
“Freedom of religion does not exist” in Saudi Arabia, the report said. “Islam is the official religion and all citizens must be Muslims.”