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Jared Kushner still defended Saudi crown prince after Khashoggi murder: Report

Upon Trump's election, delegation of Saudis visited US and identified Kushner as crucial focal point in courtship of new administration
Jared Kushner in Riyadh last May (AFP/file photo)

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner maintained informal contact with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) and publicly defended him after the 2 October killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the New York Times reported on Saturday, citing two former senior American officials and the two people briefed by the Saudis.

As the murder of the Saudi journalist who was ambushed and dismembered by Saudi agents set off a media firestorm and American intelligence agencies concluded that it was ordered by MBS, Kushner became the prince’s primary defender inside the White House, people familiar with its internal deliberations told the Times.

Kushner’s support for MBS illustrates the personal bond that has helped draw Kushner’s father-in-law, US President Donald Trump, into an embrace of Saudi Arabia as one of his most important international allies.

The bond between Kushner and MBS did not happen on its own. The prince and his advisers, eager to secure US support for his hawkish policies in the region, cultivated the relationship with Kushner for more than two years, according to documents, emails and text messages reviewed by the New York Times.

Still, earlier this week, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced a resolution denouncing MBS for his role in the murder of Khashoggi, as well as the war in Yemen and blockade of Qatar, in both of which Saudi Arabia is deeply involved.

The case has pitted Trump against several members of his own political party, some of whom have called for the US to impose sanctions against MBS.

Trump has so far insisted on keeping strong ties to Saudi Arabia, saying the Saudi government is a key ally in the fight against Iran and has signed billions of dollars worth of defence contracts with US companies.

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On Saturday, the Times noted that on the month Trump was elected, a delegation of Saudis close to MBS visited the US and produced a report identifying Kushner as a crucial focal point in the courtship of the new administration. He brought to the job little knowledge of the Middle East, a transactional mindset and an intense focus on reaching a deal with the Palestinians that met Israel’s demands, the report noted.

Even before the inauguration, the Saudis were trying to position themselves as crucial allies who could help Trump fulfil his campaign pledges, the Times said. In addition to offering to help to resolve the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, the Saudis offered hundreds of billions of dollars in deals to buy US-made weapons and invest in US infrastructure.

Trump’s “inner circle is predominantly deal makers who lack familiarity with political customs and deep institutions, and they support Jared Kushner,” the Saudi delegation wrote of the incoming administration in a slide presentation obtained by the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, which provided it to the Times.

Several Americans who spoke with the delegation confirmed the slide presentation’s accounts of the discussions.

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