WASHINGTON, July 20 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia is taking steps towards greater religious freedom by promising to revise textbooks and establish a new human rights commission.
Comprehensive textbook revisions are expected to be completed in one to two years, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford said Wednesday. The revisions are aimed at eliminating references to religious intolerance and promotion of violence toward religious minorities in the region. Some of the negative rhetoric in Saudi texts has also been directed at the United States.
"We have been encouraged as we have discussed this issue with Saudi officials to find that they have understood our concerns, have agreed in many cases that the language is unacceptable, and have been working to address this," said Hanford.
He said the developments are a result of sustained discussions and visits to the Islamic nation, adding that he believes Saudi promises are sincere, though only time will tell.
However, Hanford reiterated that he and the Bush administration have been extremely pleased with the efforts of King Abdullah to secure religious freedoms for all Saudis, not just the majority Sunni Muslims.
"This is part of a broader initiative by the Saudi government to combat extremism," Hanford said.
The new human rights commission was established last September and will address all human rights complaints and educate the public about human rights in religious institutions.
According to one senior State Department official, Saudi Arabia has also received a waiver for sanctions placed on it due to its status as a Country of Particular Concern under the Religious Freedom Act.