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A look inside what led to this week’s historic Middle East agreement

Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan Abraham stand on the Truman Balcony during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington.
Alex Brandon, Associated Press

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump presided over a historic peace agreement between Israel and two Gulf states — United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — in an effort to normalize relations in the Middle East.

Unknown to most onlookers from the Beehive State, however, is the behind-the-scenes work of one Utahn to help these deals come about. Miles Hansen, CEO of World Trade Center Utah, was previously the director of Gulf affairs at the National Security Council inside the White House, and he joined Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson on KSL NewsRadio’s “Inside Sources” to lend his perspective on the accomplishment.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Boyd Matheson: You were the director of Gulf affairs at the National Security Council inside the White House, so you have a lot of experience in the Middle East. What does this mean in terms of these peace accords being signed at the White House today?

Miles Hansen: You know, it is exciting, and it’s days like today where I miss just a little bit of being back in Washington, because I had the honor and the opportunity to be helping them manage and build our relationship with several countries in the Gulf region, including the United Arab Emirates and also Bahrain — both countries that have bright futures, critical partners of the United States, and just full of wonderful people who are doing pretty innovative things and in a pretty tough neighborhood.

I’m excited to see the signing today. This is a culmination of a multiyear effort. And whether people support the Trump administration or critical of the Trump administration, this is unquestionably a big day for the Trump administration and a big win. The president came in working to shore up our relationship with Israel, also to build strong relationships with our Gulf partners, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. This is a culmination of that effort.

Over the time I’ve worked in the White House, of any region in the world I’m not aware of any countries that the president personally spent more time investing in these relationships on phone calls, in meetings, through letters and text messages — everything else — then our Gulf partners, which means that that kept me busy, but also means that we built up relationships of trust that enabled us to move our partners to come together in a really historic agreement.

BM: Jared Kushner, who’s also played a vital role in a lot of these negotiations, used the phrase that in deal-making, everyone’s a no, until they’re a yes. And I think that especially plays true in the Middle East. Is that right?

MH: Yes, it absolutely is correct. And sometimes the darkest moments in those negotiations are right before dawn, right before you get the yeses. People are focused in on trying to get as much as they can out of a deal. And there’s no question about it. This was a negotiation. There was horse trading involved. This is deal-making at its finest, but at the end of the day, Jared does deserve a lot of credit. The Emirati ambassador in Washington, D.C., Yousef Al Otaiba — a close friend and an incredibly effective diplomat and statesman — he was very much involved in brokering a lot of these deals, as well. But it was deal-making, it was negotiations, it was a very challenging process, and so again, credit is owed to everybody involved for getting the party say yes and getting this deal done.

BM: Deals like this, while they don’t solve all the problems of the Middle East, they do create space for democracy to be strengthened — for freedom of the press, and freedom of speech and freedom to gather — all of those things are expanded on days like today, and that has to be a good thing for freedom and for peace, and how much time and attention and treasure the United States has to invest in order to keep those critical allies in the ballgame.

MH: There are definitely values that we share that are important in the region and we want support those that also share values. In the Middle East, there are few countries that share all of our values, with Israel as the one key exception in terms of the state that does share all of our values. The other states, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. What we want to do is identify where we do have shared values and build on those and strengthen the relationship with the expectation that over time, the overlap between our values and their values will grow.

Setting aside values, we just have straight up real politic interests in the region. We have a lot of interest in Bahrain, where we have our Middle East naval fleet headquartered there. We have a lot of interest in the United Arab Emirates, and of course in Israel, as well. So as we strengthen relationships across these critical partners and allies in the region, that is a win for us on the value perspective, but just as importantly, it’s a win in terms of our interests.

When you look at a map just across the waterway from the UAE and Bahrain, you’ve got Iran, and Iran has been creating a lot of instability across the region for many years. And as we look at the Gulf, Arab states solidifying relationships with Israel, those set of countries are the best position to push back against Iran. And we want to strengthen our partners and allies so that we can work through them to provide security to the region, and not have to bear that burden ourselves.

These agreements, these relationships are going to ease the burden that we have to bear when it comes to providing security and free commerce and trade and protecting our economic interests in the region.