- By Laura RozenLaura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.
Multiple media and sources report tonight that former Clinton-era U.S. Mideast envoy Dennis Ross has accepted a position to serve as the Obama administration’s “envoy at large” on Mideast issues.
“Executives at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the think-tank where Mr Ross works, told the organisation’s board that Mr Ross had ‘accepted an invitation to join the Obama administration as ambassador-at-large’ in a job ‘designed especially for him,’ covering a range of issues from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to Iran,” the Financial Times reports.
A State Department official who asked to remain anonymous responded to the report, “Dennis would be usurping a few positions at once: NEA A/S [Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs] (and PDAS, who deals with Iran), Policy Planning chief (one of his old positions), and would be jostling with P [under secretary of state for political affairs] on Iran — and probably the new Elliott [Abrams] at NSC. Seems like a lot of cooks, and the Secretary et al would always get the benefit of Dennis’s advice without having to create a new position for him with staffing, 7th floor accommodations — and lots of top heavy confusion.”
A Democratic national security official said, “My sources said that Ross was choosing between jobs at NSC and State, and that the State one was narrower but had negotiating authority. This suggests to me that his own negotiating authority is pretty excellent.”
Meantime, a Georgetown University student who asked to remain anonymous writes, “Today my middle east policy class with Professor Ross (Georgetown University) was canceled because, in the past 24 hours, he has reached an agreement with the Obama Administration to run the Iran Portfolio for the State Department (as according to a fellow professor).” The student’s report could not immediately be confirmed.
A Washington Jewish community activist commented that of key Democratic Mideast hands being considered for top jobs in the Obama administration — Ross, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, Obama advisor and former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel Daniel Kurtzer, and longtime former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller — “Ross would be probably the most conventional,… I think. He is first of all a relativist. Kurtzer has been much more of a progressive, pushing much harder to press Israel, Miller even more so…Dennis is more a centrist.”
Another Washington Israel expert familiar with the team said, “I’ve gotten the impression with this ‘envoy’ system that there is a deliberate decentralization; no one person runs things the way Ross ran the peace process under Clinton. He has been particularly interested in Iran of late; …I still continue to believe … Ross will not have direct responsibility for Israeli-Palestinian peace; he’s done that once and failed.”
Officials with a Washington group that advocates for engagement with Iran, the National Iranian American Council, expressed concern at the reported appointment, noting that Ross was a signatory to a Bipartisan Policy Center report, which said that “a military strike is a feasible option and must remain a last resort to retard Iran’s nuclear development.”
Ross, a counselor and distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has written op-eds advocating for U.S. engagement with Syria, and more cautiously, multi-party talks with Iran. “Statecraft requires recognizing where one has leverage and where one’s adversaries have vulnerabilities,” Ross wrote in an op-ed, “Talk with Syria,” in The New Republic last year. He also campaigned for Obama among the Jewish community in Florida.
Ross did not respond to e-mailed queries over the past two days about his possible role in the Obama administration.