WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser at the head of a delegation, is heading to Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week for talks over the region which has been rife with tension after the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
A senior US administration official said on Sunday that Kushner will meet within the next few days, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi city of Neom, and with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha.
Kushner will be accompanied on the visit by US envoy to the Middle East Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook, head of the American International Development Finance Corporation, Adam Buehler.
Kushner and his team have helped negotiate normalization deals between Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Sudan since August. The official said they would like more such deals to be concluded before US President Donald Trump hands the power to President-elect Joe Biden on January 20.
US officials believe that pushing Saudi Arabia to agree with Israel would push other Arab countries to follow suit. But the Saudis do not appear to be on the verge of reaching such a historic agreement. In recent weeks, US officials have focused their efforts on other countries that share concerns about Iran’s growing influence in the region.
Kushner’s visit comes after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed on Friday in Tehran by unknown assailants. Western and Israeli governments believe Fakhrizadeh was the architect of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Days before Fakhrizadeh was killed, an Israeli official said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he met with Crown Prince Muhammad. It was the first confirmed, announced visit by an Israeli leader. Israeli media reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined them.
This historic meeting showed how the anti-Iranian stance is leading to a rearrangement of strategies in Middle Eastern countries. Prince Mohammed and Netanyahu fear Biden will adopt policies on Iran similar to those adopted during Barack Obama’s presidency and which have strained Washington’s relations with its traditional allies in the region. Biden said he would bring his country back to the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew in 2018 while working with allies to tighten its provisions if Tehran first returned to strict adherence to this agreement.
The senior administration official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, declined to provide further details about Kushner’s trip for security reasons.
But he added Kushner met at the White House last week with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Muhammad Al-Sabah. Kuwait’s role is seen as crucial in any effort to resolve the three-year-old ongoing dispute between Qatar and other Arab countries.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt cut ties with Qatar in 2017 over its alleged support for terrorism, which Doha denies.