Former Trump inaugural committee chair defends Saudi Arabia

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The man who led President Donald Trump's inaugural committee 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, a real estate developer, 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.

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 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.