RIYADH (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday Saudi Arabia's reform efforts will be more successful if the kingdom expands human rights, as he concluded a visit aimed at repairing strained U.S.-Saudi relations.
Speaking at a press conference alongside his Saudi counterpart, Blinken said the "historic" reform drive known as Vision 2030 would require Saudi Arabia to attract talent from around the world.
"I think it’s on its own merits and in Saudi Arabia’s interests to continue to pursue this modernisation including the expansion of human rights," Blinken said.
He said he raised with Saudi officials specific cases of U.S. citizens detained in Saudi Arabia, but declined to go into details.
As well as some U.S. nationals who are subject to travel bans, human rights advocates say scores of activists and dissidents are in prison or on trial in the kingdom.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has spearheaded the Vision 2030 initiative, was involved in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Prince Mohammed denied ordering Khashoggi's killing but acknowledged later that it occurred "under my watch".
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in response to a question about Riyadh's human rights record that the kingdom had gone through a "significant reform process" but that the government was driven by "the needs and desires of the Saudi people" and not pressure from other countries.
“We are always open to having a dialogue with our friends, but we don’t respond to pressure. When we do anything, we do it in our own interests," he said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Riyadh and Simon Lewis in Washington, editing by Mark Heinrich)