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Kushner Heads to Riyadh and Doha as Iran Weighs Response (November 30, 2020)

Kushner Heads to Riyadh and Doha as Iran Weighs Response (November 30, 2020)

Jared Kushner, the senior advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump, is headed to the Middle East this week as tensions in the region have increased after the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh by suspected Israeli agents.

It’s the second visit to the region by a member of the Trump administration since Joe Biden became President-elect. And like Mike Pompeo’s visit—which, according to Israeli media, included a trilateral meeting between the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Israel—what will be discussed behind closed doors is unknown.

Kushner is to meet with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as well as Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani. Kushner is reported to be eager to finalize more normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries before leaving office, and Saudi Arabia would represent the biggest prize.

More than a hit. Beyond the perceived threat of Iran restarting its nuclear weapons program, the assassination of Fakhrizadeh serves multiple purposes for those that would seek to keep the United States and Iran far away from the negotiating table.

The provocation puts pressure on President Hassan Rouhani to retaliate immediately, giving Iran’s enemies a chance to escalate in turn. It also gives further ammunition to hardliners, who say dealing diplomatically with the West is futile. And for President-elect Joe Biden, it creates a much more difficult negotiating environment with a country that—following Trump’s swift rejection of U.S. involvement in the 2015 nuclear deal—already had very little incentive to trust the word of the United States to begin with.

What can Biden do next? Writing in Foreign Affairs on Nov. 10, Trita Parsi recommended a novel approach to help Biden back out of the corner the Trump administration and Israel seem determined to put him in. “Instead of asking himself what degree of sanctions relief he is willing to fight for in Congress to revive the nuclear agreement,” Parsi writes, “he should ask himself what kind of relationship the United States would like to have with Iran in this century.” A bigger picture answer? Normalize ties with Iran.

Writing in Foreign Policy on Nov. 25, Benjamin H. Friedman and Stephen Wertheim propose an elegant solution: Do less. As part of an argument for removing U.S. troops from the region, the authors show why the U.S. stepping away from the region may not be as damaging as others predict. “Because the Middle East is experiencing a competition for influence among multiple midsized powers—Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel—no one state credibly threatens to dominate the region and its oil supply,” Friedman and Wertheim write. “The United States will obtain more security by doing less.”