Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is heading to Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week for talks in a region teeming with tensions over the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist.
A senior administration official said on Sunday that Kushner would meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi city of Neom and the emir of Qatar in the coming days. Kushner will be joined by Middle East envoys Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook and Adam Boehler, CEO of the United States Corporation for International Development Finance.
Since August, Kushner and his team have helped negotiate normalization deals between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan. The official said he would like to reach more such agreements before Donald Trump handed over power to President-elect Joe Biden on January 20th.
U.S. officials believe that luring Saudi Arabia into a deal with Israel would encourage other Arab states to follow suit. But the Saudis do not seem on the verge of reaching such a remarkable deal, and in recent weeks officials have focused on other countries, a unifying factor for Iran̵
Kushner’s trip comes after the killing of Mohsen Fahrizade in Tehran on Friday by unidentified assailants. Western and Israeli governments believe Fahrizade was the architect of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Days before the assassination, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Saudi Arabia and met with Prince Mohammed, an Israeli official said in the first publicly confirmed visit by an Israeli leader. Israeli media reported that they were joined by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The historic meeting highlighted how Tehran’s opposition has led to a strategic reshuffle in the Middle East. Prince Mohammed and Netanyahu fear that Biden will adopt policies for Iran similar to those adopted during Barack Obama’s presidency, which have strained Washington’s ties with traditional regional allies. Biden has said he will join the international nuclear pact with Iran, which Trump left in 2018 – and will work with allies to tighten his terms – if Tehran resumes strict compliance.
A senior administration official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, declined to give more details about Kushner’s trip for security reasons.
The official said Kushner met at the White House last week with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah. Kuwait is considered critical of any effort to resolve the three-year rift between Qatar and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which includes the GCC, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017 and boycotted allegations that Qatar supports terrorism, a charge he denies.