To start, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been cultivating his own relationship with the Saudi crown prince and heir apparent in the last year. The first outreach began during the transition, according to Trump administration officials. It has continued with Kushner being placed in charge of both reviving the Middle East peace process and nurturing the new counter-extremism initiative announced in Riyadh in March.
Current and former Trump officials tell me that Kushner has also been an advocate inside the national security cabinet for the U.S. aligning with the Saudi crown prince. Kushner was the force behind making Saudi Arabia Trump’s first overseas trip as president, and a big part of that visit was to signal America’s support for Mohammed bin Salman’s reform agenda.
And even though Kushner is a foreign-affairs amateur compared with the pros in the cabinet, his instincts are not wrong. Mohammed bin Salman has publicly stated his desire to move Saudi Arabia in the direction in which U.S. presidents from both parties have prodded the kingdom for decades.