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American reporter for Jerusalem Post denied Saudi visa to cover Obama, White House objects

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Shown here is Jerusalem Post D.C. bureau chief Michael Wilner. (Michael Wilner)

A D.C.-based reporter for The Jerusalem Post who is Jewish was blocked from covering President Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia later this week after the country refused to issue him a visa, drawing objections from the White House. 

Michael Wilner, the Washington bureau chief for the English-language Israel newspaper, had sought to travel to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, in order to cover the U.S. president -- Obama plans to visit the Middle Eastern country following stops in several European cities. 

But Wilner, who is also the newspaper's White House correspondent, found out on Monday that he was denied an entry visa. Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations. Wilner, however, is not an Israeli citizen and has never lived in Israel. 

"I am an American journalist covering the travel of an American president. We consider it unfortunate that Saudi Arabia would deny any legitimate reporter the ability to complete that work -- much less one properly credentialed, in the White House press corps, expressly invited on the trip," he said in an email. "We have little doubt that my access was denied either because of my media affiliation or because of my religion. That is a grave disappointment, and a lost opportunity for the Kingdom." 

U.S. officials also have voiced concerns to the Saudis about Wilner's treatment. 

"We are deeply disappointed that this credible journalist was denied a visa. We will continue to register our serious concerns about this unfortunate decision," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement. 

According to The Jerusalem Post, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and her deputy Tony Blinken personally complained about the Saudi government's handling of the case. 

Saudi Arabia reportedly held the bureau chief's passport for two weeks -- much longer than the typical turnaround time. The newspaper reported that when asked for comment, the Saudi counselor said only that "the decision has been made." 

The White House Correspondents' Association also put out a statement on Tuesday calling the Saudi government's decision "outrageous." "The denial is an affront not only to this journalist, but to the entire White House press corps and to the principle of freedom of the press that we hold so dear," the statement said. 

Amid claims that Wilner was discriminated against, the dispute could cast a cloud over Obama's visit, which caps off a week of meetings with European partners. Saudi Arabia has long faced international pressure over its treatment of women and religious minorities. 

According to officials, Obama is expected to meet with King Abdullah and discuss a broad range of issues, including the Syrian civil war and the Middle East peace process.