KEY POINTS

  • Kushner leading Middle East policy advisers on a trip to Riyadh
  • Kushner helped warm Arab states to Israel with the Abraham Accords
  • His visit follows the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist

Accounts of an upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia by White House adviser Jared Kushner suggest the trip may include boxing in Iran as one of its agendas.

Citing a senior administration official, the Reuters news service on Sunday reported that Kushner is leading a team of Middle East policy advisers to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Kushner’s trip comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region following Friday’s assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, allegedly by Israel agents. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu preceded Kushner with trips to meet the Saudi prince.

Kushner helped broker the so-called Abraham Accords that saw Arab states Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan warm to Israel. He could be trying to persuade Saudi Arabia to do the same.

The same official, who was not quoted by Reuters directly, said outgoing President Donald Trump is pushing for more countries to follow suit before he leaves office in January. Getting Saudi Arabia on board would help that effort given its influence in the Middle East, but Riyadh may have other initiatives in mind, such as containing Iran, the report added.

On the surface, Kushner’s visit could involve an effort to ease tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which broke from Riyadh after allegations it was supporting terrorism in the region. But what happens behind closed doors, notes a report in Foreign Policy, is anyone’s guess.

That report takes note of the provocative steps taken by the Trump administration in its waning days, notably the increased use of sanctions. That in turn makes the hardliners in Iran, who are usually anti-U.S., less susceptible to talking with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he would consider rejoining the multilateral nuclear deal that saw Iran abandon some of its nuclear ambitions.

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reports that Kushner and the Saudi crown prince, known also as MbS, developed a personal relationship based on a shared interest in countering Iran.

Joining Kushner on his trip are Avi Berkowitz, one of the architects behind the Abraham Accords, and Brian Hook, Trump’s former point man in Iran policy.

Iranian broadcaster Press TV, meanwhile, reported that Jordan’s King Abdullah views Trump’s effort to create an Israeli bloc in the Middle East does more to exacerbate regional tensions than broker peace.

Senior Advisors to the President Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump arrive at the White House aboard Marine One on November 29, 2020 Senior Advisors to the President Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump arrive at the White House aboard Marine One on November 29, 2020 Photo: AFP / Alex Edelman