White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner spent much of last week on a mysterious, unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia — a sign that Kushner is still playing a key, albeit unclear role in administration efforts to broker peace in the Middle East.
According to Politico, Kushner left the U.S. on Wednesday and was accompanied by deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. Greenblatt continued the trip by himself, traveling to Jordan, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Kushner returned to the U.S. Saturday.
Curiously, the White House did not tell Politico who Kushner met with, or apparently what was discussed. The White House official told Politico:
The Senior Advisor to the President, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy, and the Special Representative for International Negotiations recently returned from Saudi Arabia. The Senior Advisor has also been in frequent contact with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
While these regional talks will play an important role, the President reaffirms that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties and that the United States will continue working closely with the parties to make progress toward that goal.
One of the top items on Kushner’s initial portfolio was to help coordinate a Middle East peace process, but Kushner has also been involved in a broad range of policy decisions — reportedly including some more fateful decisions including the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the decision for President Trump to back doomed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in the Alabama Senate race.
CNN notes that it is the third time this year Kushner has visited the Kingdom, having recently visited in August and in May — during which Trump signed a Kushner-brokered $110 billion arms deal.
Kushner has reportedly seen his role diminish in recent months. Axios reported that he and Ivanka Trump are trying to “keep in their lane” after upsetting top administration officials with their ubiquitous presence.
The Saudi Arabia trip comes after Politico also reported that Kushner’s role in Trump’s upcoming trip to China has been scaled down. Once one of the key administration officials on the White House’s policy to China, Kushner will only be present on the first leg of Trump’s Asia tour.
The outlet reports that some are seeing the diminished role as a sign of White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly’s increasing influence and attempt to formalize a structure — one that avoids giving unnecessary prominence to Trump’s family members (Kushner is also Trump’s son-in-law).
The trip to Saudi Arabia would, however, indicate that Kushner is still playing a central role in attempts to forge peace in the Middle East.