A question to a US State Department official on Saudi Arabia's lack of democracy was met by an agonising silence

Stuart Jones of the US State Department. Image: Screengrab

Here’s some of what US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Saudi Arabia earlier this month when asked what he hoped would be the outcomes of the re-election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani:

We … hope that he restores the rights of Iranians to freedom of speech, to freedom of organization, so that Iranians can live the life that they deserve. That’s what we hope this election will bring. I’m not going to comment on my expectation. But we hope that if Rouhani wanted to change Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world, those are the things he could do.

In a media briefing in Washington on Tuesday, a senior US State Department official was asked about how this squared with the absence of similar questions from the Trump administration towards Saudi Arabia and its slow progress on democratic reforms.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones was asked by Dave Clare of Agence France Presse: “The Secretary criticised the conduct of the Iranian elections and Iran’s record on democracy. He did so standing next to Saudi officials. How do you characterise Saudi Arabia’s commitment to democracy and does the administration believe democracy is a buffer, or barrier, against extremism?”

The response was an incredible silence lasting almost 20 seconds while Jones searched for a response. Watch:

He eventually got around to explaining there had been “significant progress” through the recent round of meetings.

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