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Kushner with senior Saudi officials in the Oval Office in 2018. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Jared Kushner will travel in the coming days to Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a last-ditch effort to resolve the dispute between the Gulf countries.

Why it matters: Fixing the rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf and notch a last-minute achievement for Kushner and the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

Background: In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and other Sunni states severed ties with Qatar and closed their airspace and sea routes to Qatari planes and vessels. They claimed their decision was based on Qatar's support for terror groups and relations with Iran.

  • The U.S. maintains close ties with both Qatar and its rivals, but the Trump administration's several attempts to reconcile the parties were unsuccessful.

What to watch: Kushner will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, U.S. officials tell me. Kushner has close relationships with both leaders.

  • Accompanying Kushner will be White House envoy Avi Berkowitz, International Development Finance Corporation CEO Adam Boehler, and former Iran envoy Brian Hook, who is now an unpaid special adviser and was involved in previous efforts to resolve the rift.

Driving the news: Kushner’s trip comes a week after a secret meeting between MBS and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kushner’s relations with MBS proved crucial over the last few months as the Trump administration moved forward with the Abraham Accords, which led to normalization between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.

  • The Saudis have not agreed to normalization, but they did agree to let Israeli airlines use Saudi airspace for the first time, and they gave Bahrain a green light for normalization with Israel. The decision by MBS to meet with Netanyahu was another significant step.
  • The Trump administration is still trying to push forward more potential normalization agreements before January.

What’s next: Kushner hopes to convince the Saudi and Qatari leaders to reconcile and reach a deal on several outstanding issues, U.S. officials tell me.

  • Kushner also wants to use the talks in Saudi Arabia to cement the agreement for Saudi Arabia to allow eastbound flights from Israel to pass through Saudi airspace.

Go deeper: Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - World

Israel's chief epidemiologist creates diplomatic incident with UAE

Israeli travelers arrive in Dubai. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

A remark by Israel’s chief epidemiologist suggesting the opening of direct flights from Dubai to Tel Aviv had led to COVID-19 deaths in Israel resulted in diplomatic protests from the UAE, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Direct flights were one of the main fruits of the Israel-UAE peace treaty, and around 130,000 Israeli tourists have taken advantage by flying to Dubai since December.

U.S. ambassador to Russia will return home briefly: State Department

John Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, during a briefing in Moscow in 2015. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The State Department said Monday that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, will now be returning to the United States this week before returning to Moscow "in the coming weeks."

Why this matters: The statement, from a State Department spokesperson, comes just hours after Axios reported that Sullivan had indicated he intended to stand his ground and stay in Russia after the Kremlin “advised” him to return home to talk with his team.

Scoop: Leaked Ukraine memo reveals scope of Russia's aggression

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a military exposition in Sevastopol, Crimea, in Jan. 2020. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia has been holding last-minute military exercises near commercial shipping lanes in the Black Sea that threaten to strangle Ukraine's economy, according to an internal document from Ukraine's ministry of defense reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: With the eyes of the world on the massive buildup of troops in eastern Ukraine, the leaked memo shows Russian forces escalating their presence on all sides of the Ukrainian border.

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