Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner called defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s CEO Marillyn Hewson and asked her to reduce the cost of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system so that Saudi Arabia could buy it, the New York Times reported Thursday. The phone call was made May 1 during a meeting with a Saudi delegation at the White House, the report added.
During the meeting, Kushner sensed the cost could prove a problem for the Middle Eastern country from buying a THAAD defense system, which is capable of shooting down intermediate-range ballistic missiles, the Times reported. So he dialed up Hewson to ask her if the anti-ballistic missile system’s price could be brought down, according to the report, which cited multiple unnamed administration officials.
Kushner’s call to the Lockheed CEO was a part of his effort to secure an arms deal worth about $110 billion with Saudi Arabia, ahead of the president’s official trip to the kingdom Friday. However, White House officials told the Times the move was a part of a government-wide effort that included the State Department, the Defense Department, and the National Security Council. Moreover, the arms sale will be only one element of Trump’s Saudi Arabia visit.
During his meeting with the Saudi delegation May 1, Kushner gave a strategic overview of the Saudi-American relationship, the Times reported citing an agenda.
While the 36-year-old did not break any law by making the call, the move appeared to be unusual, the Times noted. Derek H. Chollet, who was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Obama administration, told the newspaper the House of Saud now directly deals with a Trump family member.
“It’s quite normal for them to sit down with the son-in-law of a president and do a deal,” Chollet reportedly said. “It’s more normal for them than any previous administration.”
Trump tasked Kushner with several responsibilities including leading a task force to reform the federal government, looking into criminal justice reform and seek peace in the Middle East.
In February, Lockheed reduced the cost of the F-35 fighter jet program after Trump expressed his disapproval at its cost, which was several billion dollars. The Bethesda, Maryland-based defense company is the only one to manufacture THAAD, which was also deployed in South Korea to counter nuclear threats from North Korea.
According to White House officials, Kushner began building a connection with members of the Saudi royal family during the transition, the Times reported. In March, he was seen at the table when Trump hosted the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, at a lunch in the White House’s State Dining Room.
Meanwhile, Trump is set to leave Friday for his first foreign trip since assuming office. His first destination would be Saudi capital Riyadh, where he will be on a two-day visit. He will then head on to Israel, Italy, Belgium, and Sicily and will return to Washington, D.C., on May 27.