New Saudi Heir Built the Right Ties in Trump's White House

Updated on
  • Crown Prince dined twice with Trump daughter and son-in-law
  • Among first foreign officials to meet with U.S. president

Saudi Arabia's Shake-Up

The new heir to the Saudi throne has been cultivating ties to some of the most influential officials in Donald Trump’s White House, already dining twice with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then the deputy crown prince, was one of the first foreign officials to visit Trump as president, joining him and aides for a March 14 luncheon at the White House.

Trump called the new crown prince Wednesday to offer congratulations on his elevation, the White House said in a statement. Trump and the prince “committed to close cooperation to advance our shared goals of security, stability, and prosperity across the Middle East and beyond,” according to the statement.

During the 31-year-old prince’s March visit, he also had dinner at the home of his generational contemporaries, the 36-year-old Kushner and his wife. Kushner is one of the president’s most trusted aides, and his many portfolios include the Middle East. Ivanka Trump also is an adviser to her father. The couple dined again with Prince Mohammed at his home during the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May, a White House official said.

Kushner was in the Middle East Wednesday, holding separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leads in an attempt to restart peace talks.

Visit to Riyadh

The U.S. president also spent time with the prince during his visit to Riyadh, said another administration official. The officials asked not to be identified discussing private meetings.

In the course of those conversations, the prince developed a good relationship with Kushner and Ivanka Trump as well as others in the Trump administration, according to the first official.

Trump and his team see the prince as serious about pursuing economic and social reforms in Saudi Arabia, though they still aren’t sure how far or at what pace he is able to proceed, the second official said.

Read How the Rise of a Prince Ends Doubts Over Saudi Arabia’s Direction

“It’s clear that his relationship is excellent with the White House,” said Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “He was the point man on Trump coming to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip. He has very strong relationships with the White House, as well as the State Department and the Department of Defense.”

The White House didn’t receive any advance notice from Saudi officials ahead of the prince’s elevation, the second official said.

Western diplomats already referred to Prince Mohammed as “Mr. Everything” because of his control over most aspects of domestic, foreign and defense affairs. His elevation to Crown Prince ends a behind-the-scenes struggle for power and answers what would happen to his plans for Saudi Arabia when King Salman, now 81, dies or steps aside.

His Vision 2030 seeks to recalibrate the kingdom’s economy to end its near-total dependence on oil revenue. He also led a multination effort to isolate neighboring Qatar, causing a rift among fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

(Updates with additional information on Trump appraisal of Saudi heir and Kushner background beginning in fifth paragraph. An earlier version of this story had an incorrect day in the third paragraph.)
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