London, Asharq Al Awsat and Agencies – The United States has extended a waiver that avoids imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia because it has made efforts to improve religious tolerance in the kingdom, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
In 2004, the United States put Saudi Arabia on a watch list, warning its Middle East ally it could put sanctions on the oil exporter if it did not expand religious freedom.
The waiver for Saudi Arabia is the only time Washington has eschewed punishing a blacklisted country under a 1998 law targeting violators of religious rights.
Dr. Muflih al Qahtani, deputy president of the National Human Rights Association in Saudi Arabia, refused to comment on the US decision but said his organization has investigated 10 complaints submitted by individuals, against third parties, after they suffered from intimidation because of their sectarian or religious belonging. Further investigation concluded that none of the complaints were due to religious or sectarian bias.
He added that Saudi Arabia imposed strict controls over those attempting to infringe on religious freedoms.
On Wednesday, the State Department informed the U.S. Congress that it decided to leave in place the waiver, citing Saudi cooperation in promoting more tolerance and creating a rights commission to review complaints, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.
In 2004, the State Department said religious freedom did not exist in Saudi Arabia.