Kushner Is Leaving Tillerson in the Dark on Middle East Talks

Posted by DanielS on Saturday, 02 December 2017 04:51.

President Donald Trump sits alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and senior adviser Jared Kushner during a meeting at the White House in Washington on Sept. 26, 2017. AP Photo, Evan Vucci

Bloomberg, “Kushner Is Leaving Tillerson in the Dark on Middle East Talks, Sources Say”, 2 Dec 2017:

- Rex Tillerson worries secret plan could plunge region into chaos.

-White House rejects accusation State Department isn’t informed.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is increasingly alarmed by what he sees as secret talks between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—fearful that the discussions could backfire and tip the region into chaos, according to three people familiar with Tillerson’s concerns.

The central goal of the Kushner-Prince Mohammed negotiations, as described by two people with knowledge of the talks, is for an historic agreement featuring the creation of a Palestinian state or territory backed financially by a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, which could put tens of billions of dollars toward the effort.

A lasting Middle East peace treaty has been a U.S. goal for decades, and at the start of his administration Trump assigned the 36-year-old Kushner to head up the effort to make it happen.

Tillerson believes Kushner hasn’t done enough to share details of the talks with the State Department, according to the people, leaving senior U.S. diplomats in the dark on the full extent of the highly sensitive negotiations.

“The problem is, the senior presidential adviser does not consult with the State Department—and it’s unclear the level of consultation that goes on with the NSC,” one of the people familiar with Tillerson’s concerns said, referring to the National Security Council. “And that’s a problem for both the NSC and the State Department and it’s not something we can easily solve.”

The concerns predate reports this week that Trump may move to oust Tillerson by the end of the year—reports the president rejected but which Tillerson’s team believes are being stoked by Kushner allies, one person said. An administration official said Kushner had nothing to do with those reports.

[...]

It isn’t clear how far along the discussions are between Kushner and Prince Mohammed, three people said. And some in the U.S. government are skeptical the effort will succeed, in part because of the historic intractability of Israelis and Palestinians and because any peace deal would ultimately require the support of many competing leaders in the region.

The State Department officials’ skepticism about the Middle East discussions also reveals ongoing frustration at the president’s decision to go around them and the U.S. diplomatic corps he frequently disparages. Instead, Trump placed delicate peace negotiations in the hands of Kushner, who has no experience in diplomacy and little background in the complexities of one of the world’s most volatile regions.

Yet Trump, who has long spoken of Mideast peace as the ultimate trophy for a career dealmaker, has shown unwavering faith in his son-in-law’s ability to deliver.“If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” the president told Kushner onstage at a black-tie event celebrating his inauguration in January. “All my life I’ve been hearing that’s the toughest deal to make, but I have a feeling Jared is going to do a great job.”


The greatest dangers in the Middle East today are Jared Kushner and Mohamed bin Salman

Independent, 17 Nov 2017:

The sort of Neo-con and right-wing think tankers, who in 2003 were saying that a war with Iraq would be a doddle, are back in business in Washington, pushing for war with Iran – and are stronger than ever.

Shortly before the earthquake in Baghdad, I was making the above point about Iraq stabilising to a European diplomat. He said this might be true, but that real danger to peace “comes from a combination of three people: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner, and Bibi Netanyahu in Israel.”

Probably, the Saudis and the Americans exaggerate the willingness of Netanyahu and Israel to go to war. Netanyahu has always been strong on bellicose rhetoric, but cautious about real military conflict (except in Gaza, which was more massacre than war).

Israel’s military strength tends to be exaggerated and its army has not won a war outright since 1973. Previous engagements with Hezbollah have gone badly. Israeli generals know that the threat of military action can be more effective than its use in maximising Israeli political influence, but that actually going to war means losing control of the situation. They will know the saying of the 19th century German chief of staff, Helmuth Von Moltke, that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”.

But even if the Israelis do not intend to fight Hezbollah or Iran, this does not mean that they would not like somebody else to do so for them. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told me in an interview earlier this month that his greatest fear was a US-Iranian confrontation fought out in Iraq. This could happen directly or through proxies, but in either case would end the present fragile peace.

On the optimistic side, US policy in Iraq and Syria is largely run by the Pentagon and not the White House, and has not changed much since President Obama’s days. It has been successful in its aim of destroying Isis and the self-declared caliphate.

The wars in Iraq and Syria already have their winners and losers: President Bashar al-Assad stays in power in Damascus, as does a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. An Iranian-backed substantially Shia axis in four countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – stretches from the Afghan border to the Mediterranean. This is the outcome of the wars since 2011, which is not going to be reversed except by a US land invasion – as happened in Iraq in 2003.

The great danger in the Middle East today is that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and Jared Kushner appear to have a skewed and unrealistic understanding of the world around them. Inspector Clouseau seems to have a greater influence on Saudi policy than Machiavelli, going by the antics surrounding the forced resignation of Saad Hariri as Prime Minister of Lebanon. This sort of thing is not going to frighten the Iranians or Hezbollah.

The signs are that Iran has decided to go a long way to avoid confrontation with the US. In Iraq, it is reported that it will support the re-election of Abadi as prime minister which is also what the US wants. Iran knows that it has come out on the winning side in Iraq and Syria and does not need to flaunt its success. It may also believe that the Crown Prince is using anti-Iranian nationalist rhetoric to secure his own power and does not intend to do much about it.

Nobody has much to gain from another war in the Middle East, but wars are usually started by those who miscalculate their own strengths and interests. Both the US and Saudi Arabia have become “wild cards” in the regional pack. The sort of Neo-con and right-wing think tankers, who in 2003 were saying that a war with Iraq would be a doddle, are back in business in Washington, pushing for war with Iran – and are stronger than ever.

The wars in the Middle East should be ending, but they could just be entering a new phase. Leaders in the US and Saudi Arabia may not want a new war, but they might just blunder into one.

Politico, “Kushner took unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia”, 29 Oct 2017:

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner returned home Saturday from an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia — his third trip to the country this year.

Kushner left Washington, D.C., via commercial airline on Wednesday for the trip, which was not announced to the public, a White House official told POLITICO. He traveled separately from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who led a delegation to Riyadh last week to focus on combating terrorist financing.

Kushner was accompanied in the region by deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. Greenblatt continued from Saudi Arabia to Amman, Jordan; Cairo; the West Bank city of Ramallah; and Jerusalem, where he was on Sunday.

Haaretz, “Israel, Egypt Pushed U.S. to Bomb Iran Before Nuclear Deal, John Kerry Says”, 29 Nov 2017:

Speaking at a Washington forum, the former secretary of state said that Prime Minister Netanyahu was ‘genuinely agitating toward action’ against Iran.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry said both Israel and Egypt pushed the United States to “bomb Iran” before the 2015 nuclear deal was struck.

Kerry defended the deal during a forum in Washington, where he said that a number of kings and foreign presidents told the U.S. that bombing was the only language Iran would understand.

Kerry said that in his opinion it was “a trap” because the same countries would have publicly criticized the U.S. if it did carry out a bombing of Iran as they were secretly supporting.

Kerry said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “genuinely agitating toward action.”

Kerry said he didn’t know whether Iran would resume pursuing a nuclear weapon in 10 to 15 years after restrictions in the deal sunset, but he said it was the best deal the U.S. could get.

In October, lawmakers in the United States approved four different pieces of legislation targeting Iran and its proxy terror group in Lebanon, Hezbollah,  after U.S. President Donald Trump refused to re-certify the nuclear deal, leaving its fate to Congress.

At the time, Netanyahu congratulated Trump for what he called his “courageous decision” not to recertify the nuclear deal with Iran.

“He boldly confronted Iran’s terrorist regime,” Netanyahu said. “If the Iran deal is left unchanged, one thing is absolutely certain. In a few years’ time, the world’s foremost terrorist regime will have an arsenal of nuclear weapons. And that’s a tremendous danger for our collective future.”

Netanyahu said Trump has created an “opportunity to fix this bad deal, to roll back Iran’s aggression and to confront its criminal support of terrorism.”

“That’s why Israel embraces this opportunity,” Netanyahu said.

Earlier this month, the United Nations agency monitoring Iran’s compliance with a landmark nuclear treaty issued a report Monday stating that the country is keeping its end of the deal that U.S. President Donald Trump claims Tehran has violated repeatedly.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report stopped short of declaring outright that Iran is honoring its obligations, in keeping with its official role as an impartial monitor of the restrictions the treaty placed on Tehran’s nuclear programs.

But in reporting no violations, the quarterly review’s takeaway was that Iran was honoring its commitments to crimp uranium enrichment and other activities that can serve both civilian and military nuclear programs.

Foreign Policy, “Kushner, Mohammed bin Salman, and Benjamin Netanyahu Are Up to Something”, 7 Nov 2017:

It looks a lot like a plan to squeeze Iran.

There seems to be a general consensus in Washington that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ongoing purge of princes and businessmen — including the wealthiest of them all, the business mogul and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal — is motivated by his determination to consolidate his power, well before his father, King Salman, passes from the scene. He is in this regard a latter-day Adonijah, who had himself crowned king while his father King David was alive. And, like Adonijah, Mohammed bin Salman has made some very powerful enemies in the process. Unlike that Biblical figure, however, he has his father’s support and has taken care to arrest anyone who might threaten his drive to preeminence.

Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, was in Riyadh again only recently. It was his third trip to Saudi Arabia since Trump took office. He again met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he appears to have established a close personal relationship. It should therefore come as no surprise that Trump, who shares the young crown prince’s antipathy toward Iran, has commented favorably on the recent developments in Riyadh.



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