Trump Muslim comments do not tarnish view of U.S. freedoms abroad: ambassador

August 10, 2016 12:41 PM EDT

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at Crown Arena in Fayetteville, North Carolina August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump's call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States does not tarnish the U.S. commitment to religious freedom in the eyes of foreigners, a State Department official said on Wednesday.

On Dec. 7, the week after a Muslim couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, the Republican called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."

Speaking as he presented the State Department annual report on religious freedom, David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador at large for that issue, was asked whether the comments made his job of promoting religious tolerance in foreign nations harder.

"Countries across the globe ... they see clearly the basic constitutional, institutional constraints against violations of religious freedom in the United States, and I think see clearly and believe deeply in America's promise to be a model about treating all people equally without regard to religion," Saperstein said.

"That is clear and that is not tarnished by the statements here," he added. "No matter who is elected, the institutions and the United States' constitutional constraints will ensure that we continue along the line we have for the last 200 years."

At the time, Trump's comments were condemned by the White House, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and some of the candidates then vying with Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.

More recently, the parents of a Muslim American Army captain killed in Iraq took Trump to task at the Democratic National Convention over his rhetoric on Muslims, prompting a spat that triggered renewed criticism of the Republican candidate.

Democratic presidential nominee Clinton's lead over Trump in the Nov. 8 presidential election increased to more than 7 percentage points in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday, from less than 3 points on Thursday.

(Reporting By Doina Chiacu and Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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