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Some clarity on Ross’s turf

While State Department officials are still equivocating a bit on what U.S. special advisor on the Gulf and Southwest Asia Dennis Ross’s exact job responsibilities will be, they have determined what countries are included in Southwest Asia: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen. That is to say, at least as ...

While State Department officials are still equivocating a bit on what U.S. special advisor on the Gulf and Southwest Asia Dennis Ross's exact job responsibilities will be, they have determined what countries are included in Southwest Asia: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen. That is to say, at least as far as the State Department is concerned. The CIA and the military, apparently, have a different definition of the region, one that includes Afghanistan.

Here is State Department spokesman Robert Wood today:

QUESTION: Have your ace geographers been able to determine what Southwest Asia is and thereby figure out what exactly Dennis Ross’s mandate is?

While State Department officials are still equivocating a bit on what U.S. special advisor on the Gulf and Southwest Asia Dennis Ross’s exact job responsibilities will be, they have determined what countries are included in Southwest Asia: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen. That is to say, at least as far as the State Department is concerned. The CIA and the military, apparently, have a different definition of the region, one that includes Afghanistan.

Here is State Department spokesman Robert Wood today:

QUESTION: Have your ace geographers been able to determine what Southwest Asia is and thereby figure out what exactly Dennis Ross’s mandate is?

MR. WOOD: I’m so shocked that you asked that question. Let me give you my best – our best read of this. From our standpoint, the countries that make up areas of the Gulf and Southwest Asia include Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen, and those are the countries.

QUESTION: Not – not Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Look, Ambassador Ross will look at the entire region, should he be asked to, including Afghanistan. But this is something that would be worked out. You were – you asked the question yesterday about Ambassador Holbrooke and whether there was going to be some kind of, I don’t know, conflict over who is working in – on that particular issues in that country.

Look, Ambassador Ross and Ambassador Holbrooke will work together where necessary if they need to, if there’s some kind of overlap. But that’s, in essence, the State Department’s geographical breakdown of Southwest Asia.

QUESTION: Okay. So it does not – it is not the same breakdown as the military uses?

MR. WOOD: No, the military uses a different breakdown, but I’d have to refer you to them for their specific breakdown. …

QUESTION:QUESTION: Okay. But on Iran, like for instance, if someone – if the United States wanted to engage Iran on, for instance, Afghanistan, and you’ve said before from this podium that Afghanistan could play – Iran, sorry, could play a helpful role in Afghanistan – who would be kind of handling that? Would that be the special advisor for Southwest Asia in Iran, or would it be the special advisor for Afghanistan and Pakistan? Because Ambassador Holbrooke has said that he thought Iran could play a helpful role, and that suggests that he might be handling that kind of dialogue.

MR. WOOD: Well, this is—again, this is speculation. You know, we’ll have to see what happens if, indeed, we get to that point about who handles an issue with regard to Iran. It really depends on, you know, a variety of factors. I can’t – it’s hypothetical, so I just can’t give you an answer specifically on that. …

QUESTION: Yes. You know, I’m a little confused because in your statement to announce Dennis Ross’s appointment as the Southwest Asia person, you referred to two wars in the region. So which is the other war? Iraq – was Afghanistan part of that and then you took it away because of Holbrooke’s complaints or –….Just a wee bit confused here.

MR. WOOD: No, there are two wars that are raging in that region, and I’m talking about the larger region.

QUESTION: But that was included within the Southwest Asia that you demarcated in the statement.

MR. WOOD: Right. Like I said, Afghanistan is one of those issues where you have a lot of individuals who have some interests and equities in dealing with it. And as I said, if we get to a point where there is a need to have both Ambassador Ross and Ambassador Holbrooke engaging on different elements of it, they will. And they will certainly – you know, they’ll do that. But we are very clear in that statement, I think, in terms of where we see wars raging and the need to have appropriate people working on these issues.

QUESTION: Because in the CIA fact book, a book which a lot of people use, Southwest Asia does include Afghanistan. So —

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s the CIA. I’m giving you – again, I gave you what the State Department’s position is on the region.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like you – it sounds like you have a turf battle brewing, if not already begun. Maybe you should lock Holbrooke and Ross up in a room and fight it out?

MR. WOOD: That’s your characterization. There’s no turf war going on here.

QUESTION: Well, no, Robert, because I believe that originally, Afghanistan was included in this – in Dennis’s (inaudible) here, and it’s interesting that it’s been taken out, so –…So was it removed, though, because – with the wars referring to the war in Afghanistan? I mean, was it removed because —

MR. WOOD: I just spelled this out for you. I don’t have anything more to say on it.

More to come.

Laura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.

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