As Trumps Peacemaker, Kushner Finds Common Ground, and Complications, in Middle East Trip


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 As Trumps Peacemaker, Kushner Finds Common Ground, and Complications, in Middle East Trip

King Abdullah II, right, receives White House adviser, Jared Kushner, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in Amman, Jordan. Kushner has touched down in Cairo, the latest stop on his Mideast trip to discuss the possibility of resuming the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Egypt's Foreign Ministry says Kushner, who is also the son-in-law of President Donald Trump, will meet Egyptian officials, including Foreign Minister Sameh Shourky.

LONDON — In his first solo trip to the broader Middle East as President Trumps designated peacemaker, Jared Kushner has found both cause for optimism and reminders of just what a daunting task his father-in-law has given him.

Over the course of two days, he met with leaders from several influential Arab countries and emerged encouraged by their stated eagerness to help him bring Israelis and Palestinians together. But his visit on Wednesday with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt showed how other issues can easily complicate the initiative as both sides sought to paper over a dispute over American aid.

Just a day earlier, the United States cut or delayed nearly $300 million in aid to Egypt, a symbolic blow to a strategic relationship that has been a pillar of American policy in the Middle East for almost four decades. It was also a sign of growing impatience on the part of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who does not share Mr. Trumps affinity for Mr. Sisi.

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Mr. Kushner was caught out by bad timing — his trip to Egypt had been fixed weeks earlier and officials said the aid decision was driven by schedules unrelated to his travels. Mr. Sisi and Mr. Kushner gave no public hint of discord as they grinned and shook hands for the benefit of news photographers; Mr. Sisis office later issued a lengthy statement praising relations between the two nations.

Mr. Tillerson tightened the purse strings to signal displeasure with Mr. Sisi for several reasons. One was a harsh law enacted by Mr. Sisi in May making it virtually impossible for some nongovernmental organizations to operate freely in Egypt. The other was Egypts close relationship with North Korea, which stretches back to the 1970s but has become a serious irritant amid the recent surge in tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Mr. Kushner, however, hopes to enlist Egypt as a partner in making progress between the Israelis and Palestinians. He accompanied Mr. Trump, his father-in-law, on a visit to the region and separately traveled to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders over the summer. But this was Mr. Kushners first trip to see leaders from Arab states he considers critical to resolving the generations-old conflict.

In addition to Mr. Sisi, Mr. Kushner met with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Accompanied by Jason Greenblatt, the presidents special representative, and Dina Powell, the presidents deputy national security adviser, Mr. Kushner arrived in Jerusalem on Wednesday in advance of meetings on Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

In their meetings with Mr. Kushner, Arab leaders signaled readiness to cooperate, forgoing the usual grievances against Israel and instead focusing on their common interests, according to officials from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

“I think the region needs this,” Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington, said in an interview. “If we can make a breakthrough on this right now, it would be a game changer for the region. I think Sheikh Mohammed left the meeting optimistic and hopeful, but also realistic. Were not underestimating the challenges.”

The challenges remain formidable, among them two leaders — Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas — who are politically weakened and seemingly not ready for an agreement. But the Trump administration is banking on a generational shift in the region to younger leaders and a shared interest in moving on from the intractable dispute to focus on threats from Iran.

“The stars could be aligned to make some serious progress on this issue,” said Mr. Otaiba. “Given the administrations focus and Jared and the people he has, Jason and Dina, they provide a lot of confidence to people in the area. And having the backing of the White House is very important.”

In his statement, Mr. Sisi expressed enthusiasm for the American efforts and said settlement of the Palestinian issue would help fight terrorism across the Middle East. He made no mention of the funding cut.

A revised schedule for Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry suggested a meeting with Mr. Kushner had been canceled as a sign of displeasure. But Mr. Shoukry later met with Mr. Kushner alongside Mr. Sisi.

In its own statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said it “regretted” the American decision to curtail aid, and called it a sign of what it termed a “mixing of cards” that could have a negative impact. “Egypt considers this step as a misjudgment of the nature of the strategic relations that binds the two countries over decades,” it said.

By: The New York Times

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