Kushner Is Leaving Tillerson in the Dark on Middle East Talks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS/POLITICS)

 

Kushner Is Leaving Tillerson in the Dark on Middle East Talks, Sources Say

 Updated on 
  • Tillerson worries secret plan could plunge region into chaos
  • White House rejects accusation State Department isn’t informed

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Jared Kushner’s Rise to Power Mirrors Trump’s

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.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Jared Kushner

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The central goal of the 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.”

Kushner to Speak

Kushner is scheduled to speak publicly for the first time about the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East on Sunday. He’ll appear at the Saban Forum in Washington, an annual conference organized by the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution that’s focused on U.S.-Israel relations.

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

Read a QuickTake on Saudi Arabia’s brash young crown prince

Asked about Tillerson’s concerns, State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond said, “If he has any concerns, he brings them up one-on-one or in private.”

Trump provided a public boost to Tillerson on Friday, saying on Twitter that while he and the secretary of state “disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!” Tillerson, earlier in the day, called the reports of his ouster “laughable.”

Regain Influence

Tillerson and other senior State Department officials are also concerned that Saudi leaders, having been held at arm’s length by President Barack Obama, see the connection with Kushner as a way to regain influence in the White House and U.S. backing for actions that could be controversial. Already, Prince Mohammed, heir to the Saudi throne, has put several such steps into motion.

Those include summoning Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh, where he initially resigned only to postpone his decision upon returning to Beirut; the arrest and detention of dozens of Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen on corruption charges; and a more aggressive posture in the war in Yemen. Indeed, Trump tweeted his support for the anti-graft crackdown and the White House has offered only muted comments on Hariri and the conflict in Yemen.

‘Complete Confidence’

A White House official said Kushner was not aware in advance of the Saudi moves and gave no signal of approval beforehand.

NSC spokesman Michael Anton denied that the NSC and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster aren’t being fully informed by Kushner.

“General McMaster and the National Security Council believe that the Israeli-Palestinian peace team led by Jared runs a thorough and transparent interagency process, feel completely in the loop about their conversations with the Saudis and other parties and have complete confidence in their overseeing the Administration’s efforts to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal with regional support,” Anton said in a prepared statement.

Tillerson is concerned that Saudi Arabia may want to act with a freer hand in Qatar, moving beyond its economic embargo to pursue military action, according to the people. One risk is that such a move could have any number of unpredictable and dangerous consequences, including inflamed tensions with Russia and Turkey, an armed response from Iran, or a missile attack on Israel by Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Put the Brakes On

In recent weeks, Tillerson has attempted to put the brakes on key parts of any potential plan, the people said, saying he is does not want the Saudis to get mixed messages from U.S. diplomats and the president’s son-in-law.

The White House denied the contention that Kushner isn’t fully communicating with Tillerson and the State Department, and also disputed the description of the discussions between Kushner and Prince Mohammed.

“This description of our potential plan and conversations is flat out false. While we have obviously discussed economic support for a potential peace deal from many countries, not just Saudi Arabia, we have never discussed specific numbers with other countries and we have not linked a deal to Qatar,” Jason Greenblatt, the president’s Mideast envoy, said in an emailed statement. “Anybody who is suggesting these details or linkage were discussed is not in the know.”

Secret Assurances?

Kushner frequently visits the State Department to brief Tillerson about his efforts in the Middle East, but the worry is that, whether by design or neglect, Kushner hasn’t kept the secretary of state or his top aides informed about many of the details of his overseas negotiations.

Tillerson has concluded that even Trump didn’t know all of the details of Kushner’s discussions with the crown prince.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in an emailed statement: “The President is very pleased with the engagement and progress being made by his team managing the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio and is supportive of their efforts including travel to the region and ongoing discussions with counterparts. He is aware of the conversations and developments and this remains a priority for his administration.”

Kushner has grown close to Prince Mohammed, 32, and has traveled to Saudi Arabia for some of the discussions. What’s worrisome to U.S. officials is that Kushner may have given the Saudis secret assurances that don’t have wider support.

Regime Change

In September, Trump himself intervened on the question of Saudi military action against Qatar, telling Saudi Arabia’s leaders to drop the idea, Bloomberg reported at the time. Yet the Saudis may not have given up, said two of the people. Trump has authorized Tillerson to inform Saudi leaders the U.S. won’t tolerate an attempt to force regime change in Qatar, even if they had heard otherwise from Kushner, one of the people said.

A senior Saudi official denied such plans existed. “Qatar is a small matter and has been resolved by the boycott and we have forgotten it,” he said. “It will return to its senses and its natural size.”

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.

Diplomatic Complexities

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 regularly 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 deal maker, 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,” Trump told Kushner on-stage at a black-tie presidential inaugural event 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.”

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Trump’s Brussels trip displayed a now familiar disregard for the facts.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

‘Bad Germans’ And Other Trump Blunders

Trump’s Brussels trip displayed a now familiar disregard for the facts.
May 26, 2017, 8:31 AM EDT May 26, 2017, 10:56 AM EDT
Made in the U.S.A.Photogaper: Ariana Lindquist/Bloomberg

During his first foreign trip since he was elected, President Donald Trump didn’t look too out of place in Saudi Arabia or even in the Vatican. In Brussels, however, he was a befuddled elephant in a china shop, doing his best to convince European leaders that the U.S. was clueless on key cooperation issues.

It was bad enough that he shoved aside Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic to be in the front row during a North Atlantic Trade Organization photo opportunity; Markovic, whose country has just been welcomed into NATO, graciously said that the U.S. president belonged out front. It was awful enough that he used a memorial opening ceremony to make a politically contentious speech in which he railed against NATO members’ low defense spending and, unlike any of his predecessors, avoided explicitly affirming NATO’s pledge of mutual defense — the very Article 5 of the treaty that the memorial was supposed to commemorate.

One would expect a novice political leader in his first six months since being elected to climb a steep learning curve; instead Trump appeared to demonstrate a persistent unwillingness to learn. Despite having been told repeatedly that NATO member states had pledged to spend 2 percent of economic output on defense individually, not to pay that amount into some common pool, Trump repeated the canard that under-spenders “owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.” There appears to be no way to explain to him that no NATO member is in arrears to the military bloc’s budget.

“I never once asked what the new NATO headquarters cost,” Trump said. “I refuse to do that.” The number is published on NATO’s website: 1.12 billion euros ($1.26 billion), an amount comparable with NATO’s common budget for 2017 (1.5 billion euros) but contributed separately by the member states in proportion to the size of their economies. Besides, each country paid for the offices to be occupied by its mission.

At the meeting with top EU officials, Trump tore into Germany’s trade surplus, showing a similar disregard for facts. “The Germans are bad, very bad,” he said, according to Der Spiegel. “Look at the millions of cars they sell in the U.S. Horrible. We’re going to stop that.”

German carmakers don’t sell millions of cars in the U.S. Last year, the total unit sales of Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler reached 1.3 million (not counting Lamborghinis). At the same time, the German companies produce about a million vehicles in the U.S. For example, BMW made 32,659 sports utility vehicles in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in April 2017; it churns out 1,400 a day, most of them for export. The relatively few BMW X5s on German roads are made in Spartanburg, too: It makes sense for BMW to make the large cars closer to their main market.

Daimler made a total of 300,000 Mercedes cars in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2016. The plant is the state’s biggest exporter. VW’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, operation has a 150,000-vehicle production capacity and also is export-oriented.

The U.S. does have an auto trade deficit with Germany. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it exported $2 billion worth of cars, trucks, buses and parts to Germany (including those BMW X5s) in the first three months of 2017, and imported $7 billion worth. But it’s with Mexico and Japan that the U.S. has the biggest vehicle trade shortfalls.

If Trump is intent on making sure Americans buy more U.S.-made cars, he should be the biggest lobbyist for German car manufacturers. They bring jobs to the U.S. and work to reduce the country’s trade deficit. The stocks of all three major car makers fell following Trump’s remark — but the drops weren’t dramatic. Investors may be betting that someone will give Trump better information and he’ll change his tune. As his NATO “debts” comments show, that is unlikely.

Trump refuses to understand things that go against his deep convictions. He wants to tailor reality to them, which may mean he’ll actually try to impose punitive taxes on German-made vehicles. That may bring the price of a Mini, not made in the U.S., close to that of an  SUV made by BMW, playing havoc with the firm’s North American sales structure — but the German Big Three will, of course, adapt to it, just as VW has absorbed the enormous costs of the U.S.-generated diesel scandal.

European NATO members, too, need to adapt. That will mean grim patience for the next few years, but also stepped-up at European military cooperation outside NATO.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

(Corrects reference to the number of unit sales from the three German carmakers in paragraphs 6 and 8.)

To contact the author of this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Therese Raphael at [email protected]

Trump Defense Chief Says Japan Alliance Covers Disputed Isles

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

Trump Defense Chief Says Japan Alliance Covers Disputed Isles

February 3, 2017, 7:38 AM EST
  • Japan government says Mattis confirms stance in talks with Abe
  • U.S. opposed to one-sided actions against Japan over islands

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the defense treaty between the longtime allies covers islets disputed with China, a Japanese government statement said.

The fresh guarantee will provide some reassurance for Japan after President Donald Trump withdrew from a regional trade pact and called on allies to spend more on their own defense. The statement was released late Friday after Mattis paid a courtesy call to Abe at his offices in Tokyo on his first foreign tour.

Secretary Mattis said the Senkaku Islands are under Japanese administration and are covered by Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The U.S. opposed any one-sided actions aimed at damaging Japanese control of the islands, the statement cited Mattis as saying. The leaders also committed to ensuring the stability of the U.S. military presence in Japan however there was no mention in the statement of the cost of stationing U.S. troops there.Ships and planes from Japan and China frequently tail one another around the uninhabited islands, known as the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese. Any backing down from previous U.S. pledges to defend the isles could ratchet up tensions between Asia’s two largest economies.

The U.S.-Japan Security Treaty of 1960 binds the allies to “act to meet the common danger” if territories under Japanese administration are attacked. The U.S. acknowledges Japan as administering the isles, but does not take a position on their sovereignty.

Mattis also held a meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and is set to meet Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Saturday.

French President Hollande Says French Values Must Be Defended In Cold War Climate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

Hollande Says France Must Defend Values in Cold War Climate

December 31, 2016, 3:03 PM EST
  • Outgoing French president sees democracy, freedom at risk
  • Final New Year’s address targets National Front’s Le Pen

French President Francois Hollande tells the French they have values to defend in the context of a new Cold War — a reference to both geopolitics and the country’s looming presidential election.

“There are moments in history when everything can be toppled. We are living through one of those periods,” Hollande said in a televised speech from Paris. “Democracy, freedom, Europe and even peace — all of these things have become vulnerable, reversible. We saw it with Brexit and with the U.S. election in November.”

Hollande, who came to power in May 2012, bowed out of France’s 2017 presidential race earlier this month, meaning today’s New Year’s eve address to the nation will be his last as head of state. The Socialist leader insisted to French voters that they have a responsibility on the global stage when they cast their ballots.

“France is open to the world, it is European,” Hollande said. “It is not possible to imagine our country crouching behind walls, reduced to its domestic self, returning to a national currency and increasingly discriminating based on peoples’ origins. It would no longer be France. That is what is at stake.”

Those remarks directly targeted the policies of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is committed to pulling France out of the euro, increasing restrictions on immigration, as well as putting up tariff barriers.

“Our main enemy is our doubt. You must have confidence in yourselves,” Hollande said.

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Yahoo Says Hackers Stole Information From Over 1 Billion Accounts

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Yahoo Says Hackers Stole Information From Over 1 Billion Accounts

December 14, 2016, 5:12 PM EST

New York (AP) — Yahoo says it believes hackers stole data from more than one billion user accounts in August 2013.

The Sunnyvale, California, company says it’s a different breach from the one it disclosed in September, when it said 500 million accounts were exposed. That new hack revelation raises questions about whether Verizon will try to change the terms of its $4.8 billion proposed acquisition of Yahoo.

Yahoo says the information stolen may include names, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and security questions and answers. The company says it believes bank-account information and payment-card data were not affected.

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