WATCH: U.S. 'Welcomes' Saudi Arabia as Head of UN Human Rights Council

U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner was pressed by Matt Lee from the Associated Press to comment on the 'appropriateness' of Saudi Arabia heading the UN Human Rights Council.

U.S. State Department press briefing transcript:

(Starts at 12:00)

DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON MARK TONER: Please, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Change topic? Saudi Arabia.

MR TONER: Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Saudi Arabia was named to head the Human Rights Council, and today I think they announced they are about to behead a 21-year-old Shia activist named Muhammed al-Nimr. Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of the trial that you – or the verdict – death sentence.

QUESTION: Well, apparently, he was arrested when was 17-years-old and kept in juvenile detention, then moved on. And now, he’s been scheduled to be executed.

MR TONER: Right. I mean, we’ve talked about our concerns about some of the capital punishment cases in Saudi Arabia in our Human Rights Report, but I don’t have any more to add to it.

QUESTION: So you --

QUESTION: Well, how about a reaction to them heading the council?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have any comment, don’t have any reaction to it. I mean, frankly, it’s – we would welcome it. We’re close allies. If we --

QUESTION: Do you think that they’re an appropriate choice given – I mean, how many pages is – does Saudi Arabia get in the Human Rights Report annually?

MR TONER: I can’t give that off the top of my head, Matt.

QUESTION: I can’t either, but let’s just say that there’s a lot to write about Saudi Arabia and human rights in that report. I’m just wondering if you that it’s appropriate for them to have a leadership position.

MR TONER: We have a strong dialogue, obviously a partnership with Saudi Arabia that spans, obviously, many issues. We talk about human rights concerns with them. As to this leadership role, we hope that it’s an occasion for them to look at human rights around the world but also within their own borders.

QUESTION: But you said that you welcome them in this position. Is it based on improved record? I mean, can you show or point to anything where there is a sort of stark improvement in their human rights record?

MR TONER: I mean, we have an ongoing discussion with them about all these human rights issues, like we do with every country. We make our concerns clear when we do have concerns, but that dialogue continues. But I don’t have anything to point to in terms of progress.

QUESTION: Would you welcome as a – would you welcome a decision to commute the sentence of this young man?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not aware of the case, so it’s hard for me to comment on it other than that we believe that any kind of verdict like that should come at the end of a legal process that is just and in accordance with international legal standards.