Retired General John Abizaid, US President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia, defended the US-Saudi relationship on Wednesday as lawmakers accused the kingdom of a litany of misdeeds and criticized its crown prince as going “full gangster.”
Senators at Abizaid’s confirmation hearing including Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats condemned the kingdom’s conduct in the civil war in Yemen, heavy-handed diplomacy and rights abuses. Among those were the torturing of women’s activists and a US citizen and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Abizaid called for accountability for the murder of Khashoggi, a US resident, and support for human rights, but repeatedly stressed the strategic importance of Washington-Riyadh ties.
Despite increasing tension between the two countries, the United States has not had an ambassador to Saudi Arabia since Trump became president in January 2017.
“In the long run, we need a strong and mature partnership with Saudi Arabia,” Abizaid told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It is in our interests to make sure that the relationship is sound.”
Abizaid, a retired four-star Army general who led US Central Command during the Iraq war, is expected to easily win Senate confirmation.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Riyadh government, was killed at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October.