CAIRO, March 24 - Saudi Arabia has barred entry to a Washington-based Israeli journalist traveling with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on his current Middle East tour, the United Nations said today.
Mr. Ban is going to Riyadh on Tuesday for two days of the summit meeting of the League of Arab States.
Orly Azoulay, the Washington bureau chief of Yediot Aharonot, was unable to obtain a visa to Saudi Arabia despite assurances the Saudi mission in New York gave the United Nations last week, said Michele Montas, Mr. Ban's spokeswoman.
Ms. Montas said that both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia initially refused to grant Ms. Azoulay a visa, but that Lebanon had dropped its objections last week and given her the needed stamp.
Ms. Azoulay, 53, an Israeli-born dual citizen of France and Israel, sought the visa on her French passport. She said she had traveled during the past two years to Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Pakistan and had gone to Saudi Arabia in 2000 with correspondents covering then-Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.
When the Saudi consulate in New York returned the passports of the 11 news reporters and broadcasters to United Nations headquarters on Friday afternoon, only Ms. Azoulay's bore no Saudi visa. Ms. Montas said this
occurred despite repeated appeals to the Saudis during the week from Vijay Nambiar, Mr. Ban's chief of staff.
Mr. Azoulay joined the trip in London on Thursday, and Ms. Montas said that the United Nations had been told that the visa might come through while the United Nations group proceeded to Cairo and Jordan.
In recent days, though, she said, the Saudi mission did not return calls from United Nations officials, and they have now concluded that Ms. Azoulay will be not be allowed to accompany the United Nations group to Riyadh.
"The Saudis have a lot of countries coming which have no relations to Israel, and it appears they had more concern about that than they did about the United Nations," said an organization official who asked not to be identified so as to speak frankly.
Mr. Ban will be in Israel on Sunday and then go to Riyadh with only a six-hour stopover in Jordan for a working lunch with King Abdullah II.
Israel granted visas to all 11 news people, including at least 3 who are Arab- or Iranian-born and traveling on European passports.
"When the secretary general decides that he will take under his auspices a group of journalists, then there is some kind of responsibility that he takes upon himself and we respect this and this is the reason Israel granted
the visas without hesitation," said Daniel Carmon, Israel's deputy United Nations ambassador.
Asked the United Nations' reaction, Ms. Montas said, "What she was trying to do was to report objectively, which would improve the political climate in the region and would have been an asset to the secretary general's mission."
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