Saudis need time to complete review of textbooks: US

Washington, USA - Saudi Arabia wants a couple of years to complete a review of its school textbooks criticized for religious intolerance, the US State Department said Friday.

Saudi Arabia has been on the State Department's religious freedom blacklist for the last three years but Washington granted the Middle East ally a reprieve last year and discussed steps to promote religious freedom and tolerance.

But the independent US Commission on International Religious Freedom charged in a report this week, following a fact-finding mission to the country, that there was little transparency in the textbook revision process and "intolerant and inflammatory elements" remained in the books.

The panel is appointed by the US president and Congress leaders.

The United States has worked with Saudi Arabia on concerns about publication of textbooks and other material that promoted "negative stereotypes and promoted intolerance," said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman.

"The Saudis have taken some measures to do so. They are reviewing textbooks," he said.

"My understanding is the complete process of doing that is something they've said would take a couple of years to accomplish in total," he said.

But Casey pointed out that Washington was against the preaching of intolerance or spreading of messages of hate against any religious or ethnic group. "That is a long-standing principle."

During the trip to Saudi Arabia, government officials in Riyadh "did not provide a single textbook to the commission," the panel complained in the report.

It asked the US government to act against the Islamic kingdom's "exportation of extremist ideology and intolerance in education material."

The report specifically urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to urge the Saudi authorities to shut down a Riyadh-backed private school in Northern Virginia unless it can prove it is not teaching religious intolerance.

The commission wanted the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) to be closed "until such time as the official Saudi textbooks used at the ISA are made available for comprehensive public examination in the United States."

It said "significant concerns remain about whether what is being taught at the ISA promotes religious intolerance and may adversely affect the interests of the United States."

Casey said officials would take a "close look" at the report, including its recommendation on the school's closure.