Woodward book details Trump’s Saudi summit

NOW AVAILABLE ― Excerpts of Bob Woodward’s new book titled Fear: Trump in the White House: 

When Derek Harvey, Trump’s top Middle East adviser on the National Security Council, warned the White House about the threat from Hezbollah (Chapter 14): “Harvey went to see Jared Kushner, who had a small office adjacent to the Oval Office. Kushner sat back, crossed his legs and listened to Harvey’s case. Harvey’s number one worry in the Middle East was Hezbollah… Hezbollah was a perfect proxy for Iran to use to pressure and attack Israel, whose air bases could be pummeled with rockets. Israel’s defenses of Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow missiles would be inadequate. Harvey argued there was potential for a catastrophic war, with immense humanitarian, economic and strategic consequences. An Iranian-Israeli conflict would draw in the United States and unhinge efforts to bring regional stability.”

“Trump was given a Reader’s Digest version of the Hezbollah briefing. DNI Dan Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo supported the case in morning Oval Office PDB briefings. [James] Mattis, [H.R.] McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson supported it in a matter-of-fact way. Harvey felt the others did not appreciate the degree to which the fundamental balance of power had shifted.”

“Harvey underscored this to Kushner strongly: The new Trump administration was unprepared for what could happen. He pushed to follow up on Trump and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreements from their meeting in February—the importance of a strategic dialogue to take a fresh look and confront the new realities on the ground. He wanted to enhance the relationship that he believed had deteriorated over eight years under the Obama administration. In the summer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington (Ron Dermer) and its national security adviser wanted Harvey to come to Israel. McMaster said Harvey couldn’t go, though he gave no reason. In early July, Harvey arranged to meet with senior intelligence officials from Mossad, military intelligence, and representatives from the Israeli Air Force and Army. McMaster, angry with Harvey, would not let him move forward.”

Harvey and Kushner thought Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, his first trip overseas, and arms deal would benefit Israel: “Making Saudi Arabia the first presidential trip could go a long way to signaling that the Trump administration had new priorities. It was also very attractive to Harvey that the president’s first trip might be to his region because all the other senior NSC staffers would be clamoring to have the first trip in theirs. A summit in Saudi Arabia would also benefit Israel… Harvey knew to focus rigorously on such a suggestion from Kushner, who was obviously not just another senior presidential adviser… Harvey was as well connected as any intelligence officer to Israeli intelligence and knew that Kushner had established his own connections there. Netanyahu was a longtime Kushner family friend. Kushner told Harvey he had important and reliable intelligence that the key to Saudi Arabia was the deputy crown prince, the charismatic 31-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS… When McMaster learned of Kushner’s Saudi summit idea, he asked Harvey nervously, ‘Who’s pushing this? Where’s it coming from?'”

“No one supported the idea of a summit in two months as Kushner was now proposing. Kushner sat at the opposite end of the table from McMaster. ‘I understand this is very ambitious,’ the president’s son-in-law said. He stood. ‘I understand the concerns. But I think we have a real opportunity here. We have to recognize it. I understand we have to be careful. We need to work this diligently, as if it’s going to happen. And if it looks like we can’t get there, we’ll have plenty of time to shift gears. But this is an opportunity that is there for the seizing.’ No one said no.”

“Kushner said that if the United States was going to stay engaged in the region, they needed to help the Saudis and Israelis succeed. The president was not going to continue paying the bills for U.S. defense in the Middle East when the primary beneficiaries were the countries in the region, according to Kushner… Get the Saudis to buy more, Kushner said. If they bought weapons systems, it would help the U.S. economy and job creation… At times the Saudis were not delivering enough on contracts or arms purchases. “I’ll make a phone call,” Kushner said to Harvey. He phoned MBS directly and the Saudis increased their arms purchases… Trump finally gave the go-ahead and the trip to both Saudi Arabia and Israel was announced on Thursday, May 4… Harvey believed the summit had reset the relationships in a dramatic way, a home run.”

Rex Tillerson lobbied Trump to certify Iran deal: “When [Reince] Priebus briefed Trump on Tillerson’s proposal, the president retorted, ‘You aren’t going to jam this down my throat!’ Priebus ran shuttle diplomacy between the president and the secretary of state. ‘They’re not in violation,’ Tillerson said… Tillerson went to see the president. ‘This is one of my core principles,’ Trump said. ‘I’m not in favor of this deal. This is the worst deal that we have ever made, and here we are renewing this deal.’ Since it was only for 90 days, he would go along. ‘This is the last time. Don’t come back to me and try to renew this thing again. There’s going to be no more renewals. It’s a shitty deal.’ Mattis found a diplomatic, quieter way to agree with Tillerson. ‘Well, Mr. President,’ Mattis said, ‘I think they are probably in technical compliance.'”

“Priebus and Tillerson and McMaster made sure they were “calendaring”—as they say in the White House—when the next 90-day renewal would come up. ‘They’re in violation,’ Trump said in a meeting before the July 17 deadline, ‘and you need to figure out how the argument is going to be made to declare that.’ One day Tillerson came to the dining room next to the Oval Office to see Trump and Priebus and explain to the president again that there was no violation. ‘They are in violation,’ Trump insisted, ‘and you should make the case that this agreement is done and finished.’ … CIA Director Pompeo did not disagree with Tillerson’s arguments on Iran and the reality of the Iran deal, but he, like Mattis, handled it more softly with the president… ‘I’m never signing one of these recertifications again,’ Trump said. ‘I can’t believe I’m signing this one. There’s no way you’re going to get me to sign another one.'”

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