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. The central goal of the Kushner-Prince Mohammed 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 West Asia peace treaty has been a US 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 US 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.” The concerns predate reports this week that Trump may move to oust Tillerson by the end of the year — reports the president rejected but which Tillerson’s team believes are being stoked by Kushner allies, one person said.
An administration official said Kushner had nothing to do with those reports.Asked about Tillerson’s concerns, State Department spokesman RC 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.” 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 US 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. 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.