Embattled White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner made a rare public appearance Sunday to take part in a Q&A with Israeli-American billionaire mogul Haim Saban at a forum in Washington, D.C. — where Kushner was grilled over his efforts for Middle East peace.
“But to achieve [stability in the Middle East], the team has in it an entrepreneur, you, a real estate lawyer, a bankruptcy lawyer — I don’t know how you’ve lasted eight months in this lineup but that’s for another day — and it’s impressive that it’s still going,” Saban said.
Kushner and Saban spoke at the Saban Forum event, hosted by the Brookings Institution and titled “‘America First’ and the Middle East.” Kushner has been tasked with leading the administration’s efforts for peace in the Middle East, which has led to significant skepticism due to Kushner’s background as a Manhattan entrepreneur. Saban appeared to share much of that skepticism:
“How do you operate with people who basically, with all due respect, a bunch of Orthodox Jews who have no idea about anything,” Saban said. “What are you guys doing? Seriously, I don’t understand this.”
“I’ll definitely say it’s not a conventional team,” a smiling Kushner responded.
In the discussion, he noted the importance of having a final status agreement to help deal with some of the issues that come up in the meantime.
“One point I want to make is that we’ve been very focused on the deal and spending now it’s about seven-eight months that we’ve been very focused on that you see a lot of reasons why this deal can go south very quickly,” Kushner said, although he did not say explicitly what those reasons are.
“My team deals every month with maybe three or four different issues that come up and everyone says ‘this is the end of it if it doesn’t work‘ and I tell my guys ‘we’re not chasing rabbits’ and my guys say ‘these aren’t rabbits these are elephants these are big deal’ so [I say] ‘well, that means they’re slower so we’ll get to them after.”
It marked a very rare public appearance by Kushner, particularly considering the importance of his role and the scope of his portfolio. Kushner has been under increasing scrutiny from FBI Director Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as pressure to turn over documents from congressional committees also investigating Russia.
In his remarks, Kushner did not lay out in detail a particular plan for peace, nor did he provide many specifics. At one point in his remarks, he said that that there had been “significant” progress in uniting Middle East countries against Iranian aggression, but when asked how that manifests itself, he was vague: “We’ll find out, it will take some time.”
He also said there had been a great deal of unity around finding a solution to the Israel-Palestianian problem, saying that countries including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar have expressed commitment to finding a solution to the conflict.
In terms of a broader foreign policy, Kushner said that the president’s two main foreign policy objectives was “peace and prosperity,” producing peace and ending conflict, and then seeing a world where there is as much economic opportunity come from that.
“The difference maybe between this president and the past is that he wants to fight hard to get as much of that economic growth into America, so that’s really where ‘America First’ — he wants to make good deals for our country, he wants to figure out how to create opportunities to bring that back,” he said.
He said that this would be supplemented by a “regional economic plan” being supplemented by deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.
“We have Dina Powell, who has been very instrumental in helping us develop a regional economic plan for what could happen after a peace agreement. We’re focused on what happens after an agreement – how do you create a better environment down the road,” Kushner said.
Kushner was asked about reports that the president had decided to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. President Trump is expected to make the announcement Wednesday, but Kushner would not be drawn into speculating.
“The president is going to make his decision…he’s still looking at a lot of different facts and when he makes his decision, he’ll be the one who wants to tell you, not me, so he’ll make sure he does that at the right time,” he said.
Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.