Trump former inaugural committee chair defends Saudi Arabia

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The man who led President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee has said America is in no moral position to criticize Saudi Arabia over the killing of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are equal, or worse,” Tom Barrack said Tuesday at the Milken Institute MENA Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. His remarks were reported by Dubai’s daily English newspaper, Gulf News. The report said Barrack strongly defended Saudi Arabia, saying the kingdom is misunderstood by the West.

Following a barrage of criticism on social media, Barrack apologized Wednesday, saying in a statement to The Associated Press that he should have made clear that Khashoggi’s killing was “atrocious” and “reprehensible.”

“I feel strongly that the bad acts of a few should not be interpreted as the failure of an entire sovereign kingdom,” Barrack said. “I have always believed and continue to believe that the United States is the greatest country in the world but our history and our policies in the Middle East have been confusing at times. I believe that as a nation we do constantly work to lead by example, and I believe that we still do.”

Despite international outrage, Trump decided not to impose harsher penalties on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the October death and dismemberment of the Washington Post columnist inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The columnist, who lived in Virginia, had written articles critical of the kingdom, but Saudi Arabia insists the crown prince did not order the killing.

Critics in Congress and high-ranking officials in other countries accused Trump of ignoring human rights and giving Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons, including its influence on the world oil market. Barrack, a real estate developer and private equity investor, expressed support for the crown prince, who is pursing reforms in the kingdom. He said Western countries don’t understand the internal dynamics of Saudi Arabia.

“The West is confused, it doesn’t understand the rule of law in the kingdom, it doesn’t understand what succession in the kingdom is, it doesn’t understand how there can be a dilemma with a population that has 60 percent of people under the age of 20,” Barrack said, according to Gulf News.

Trump also has disparaged the United States rather than condemn a foreign leader he admires. During the election campaign, Trump was questioned about his support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the interviewer noted “kills journalists that don’t agree with him.”

Trump responded: “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too.”