Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 November 2020

Jared Kushner: Abraham Accord 'big turn for optimism' in Middle East

Speaking to 'The National' in Abu Dhabi, the White House senior adviser outlines the benefits of historic breakthrough between the UAE and Israel

The Abraham Accord agreed on by the UAE, Israel and the US is “a big turn for optimism in the Middle East and throughout the world”, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said on Tuesday.

Speaking to The National in Abu Dhabi after he led the visit of a US-Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi, which arrived on the first commercial flight between the UAE and Israel on Monday, Mr Kushner said the biggest part of this “historic breakthrough” is that it has inspired people “to see that peace is possible”.

The agreement was announced after a joint call on August 13 between Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As part of the accord, Israel will halt annexation of Palestinian territories in exchange for establishing diplomatic ties with the UAE.

“What we had through this agreement was two leaders breaking a barrier that many in this region thought would never be breakable,” Mr Kushner said before he left the UAE capital to continue his tour of the region, with stops in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Kushner said that it was not just in the Middle East that countries not thinking of normalising relations with Israel were now “thinking of forming a relationship and doing things they wouldn’t have thought to do a couple of weeks ago”.

“There’s a lot of envy in the region that the United Arab Emirates took this step and will now have access to Israeli agriculture, technology, security, business.. The opportunity in tourism. And so a lot of people would like to follow that now.”

Mr Kushner stressed the significance of the accord globally.

”We find that in all of our other files in the US, people aspire for peace and they see how well received it was and they see how much the world wants peace. And so people are feeling like, anything's possible,” he said.

He also said the accord was testament to Mr Trump’s leadership.

“He'll negotiate, but he'll do the right thing and he'll get results that nobody else has been able to get.”

The UAE remains committed to the collective Arab position that calls for establishing an independent Palestinian state with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital.

Mr Kushner said that Washington has approached the Palestinian-Israeli conflict “with a very rational set of solutions and prescriptions”, which includes a two-state solution.

“President Trump’s vision is a two-state solution … that properly recognises Israel's security threats and how to mitigate them. But then also deals with the fact that you can't just draw a line and then expect people to get along. You have to also empower the Palestinian people both through their culture, their institutions and then also through their economy,” he said.

But Mr Kushner stressed the need to look at a wider possibility for regional peace.

“I think that if you did one element without the others, I don't think it would be successful in the long term. But if you can work together on the whole package, I think it's a recipe for the Palestinian people to really thrive, have self-determination, have the state of their own. Live securely, live in peace, you know, get along with the Israelis, integrate into the region, and have tremendous economic opportunity."

Mr Kushner said it was “easy to misunderstand” Mr Trump’s commitment to the Middle East amid speculation over America’s level of engagement in the region. However, the president has “been abundantly clear” about the main priorities for the US and for his administration. A top priority being tackling Iran’s destabilising behaviour.

“If you look at where Iran is today, everywhere they are, it's a horror show. Right there in Yemen, Yemen's destabilised, they were playing around in Syria, they were playing in Iraq, which was destabilised. They have a strong foothold in Lebanon, and you have what's happening to the government there,” Mr Kushner said.

Those countries that were working to lessen Iran’s influence were “starting to get off their back feet and thrive a little bit”, he said.

Part of the effort to rein in Iran is America’s diplomatic push to renew a UN arms embargo on Tehran which expires next month.

“It's a very clear pathway to snapping back the resolutions because Iran clearly has been doing all types of nefarious things that are destabilising the region, at least an intent, and that's something that we have been pursuing very vigorously. I don't think the world becomes a safer place if Iran now has access to more advanced weaponry.”

Making sure ISIS did not make a resurgence is another top priority for Mr Trump, according to Mr Kushner. Another is countering extremism and extremist ideology.

“While the GCC [countries] has been fractured on certain issues, we have seen all of them coming together under President Trump's leadership to cut off the funding for a lot of the terror groups and that's reduced dramatically because President Trump said: ‘Look, I don't want people in the grey, you're either in the black or you're in the white’.”

“I would argue that his track record in the last three and a half years in the Middle East is the best that you've seen from American leadership over the last quarter century and, and that's been very deliberate, it's been very strategic. He's rebuilt alliances.”

“When you're a partner with America, there's no greater partner in the world,” he said.

As for the priorities of the American administration in a second term, should Mr Trump win in November’s elections, he will be in a position to make “the right deal” with Iran over its nuclear ambitions that will help stabilise the region.

“So Iran is basically broke right now, they're out of foreign currency. The sanctions through the maximum pressure campaign have been very effective. And I believe that one way or the other after the election, they're going to have to make a deal”, Mr Kushner said.

The recent visit of Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi to Washington last month has also set the stage for further co-operation with the Trump administration in the future, Mr Kushner said. “Iraq is heading in a very good place ... we’ve been working very closely with him [Al Kadhimi] to figure out what's the right mix of American troops in Iraq to keep long term stability and to not allow Iran's militias to destabilise Iraq.”

Mr Kushner said he predicts that during a second term in office for Mr Trump that there would be “a lot more peace with Israel” and a normalisation of ties with most countries.

After the election, assuming he wins, “the table has been set” for Mr Trump to make a breakthrough with North Korea. ”China will be a very, very big issue for the president. Obviously, right now, we're all recovering post-pandemic, but I think that we're gonna have to have some very serious discussions” about what relations with Beijing can look like.

“President Trump has shown in his first three and a half years, he has not gotten into any wars. In fact, he's worked to end wars, reduced tension. He's built relations with, you know, all different kinds of leaders, the western democracies, but then also the more [authoritarian] type of leaders. And he gets along with all of them. And I think that they trust him, they fear him, and they know that he means what he says and he says what he means and they respect him.”

Mr Kushner said the Abraham Accord was a “breakthrough” to be celebrated, but insisted "President Trump doesn't rest on his laurels".

"He [President Trump] believes that he's really spent the last three and a half years setting the table, and that the amount of opportunity that he can harvest for America and for the world to make it safer and more prosperous in the second term is going to be extraordinary”.

Updated: September 2, 2020 04:43 PM

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