17 June 2009

Dennis Ross on the move?

In Hillary's envoy: not everyone is cheering I suggested that the appointment of Mr Dennis Ross as Secretary of State Clinton’s Special Adviser for the Gulf and Southwest Asia (code for Iran) might be a less than felicitous one for the Obama Administration’s aspirations to establish a more productive relationship with Iran. Mr Ross has a reputation as an intensely pro-Israeli member of the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) set and whatever might be his bureaucratic and negotiating skills, he is possibly not the very best person to bring about serious US engagement with Iran, nor to assist the administration to bring a recalcitrant Israeli Government to heel on the two-state solution to the Palestine problem.

There was also something odd about the way the appointment was trotted out by media release in the dead of night, with none of the fanfare that attended the appointment of George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, who were announced with great fanfare as special envoys of the President rather than the Secretary of State.

Subsequently, in Iran: Hillary’s envoy (contd.), I noted reports that Mr Ross was successfully carving out an empire for himself in the State Department and establishing his dominance over the Iran issue.

Now there is a curious report in the New York Times, 15 June 2009, to the effect that the Obama Administration intends to move “its senior Iran policy maker”, Mr Ross, from the State Department to the National Security Council. This is said to reflect the fact that the White House has become the focus of action on Iran (wasn’t it always?).

The source is said to be “two administration officials” who said Mr. Ross was “likely to remain influential on Iran policy, as well as offering strategic advice on the broader Middle East”. These officials spoke on condition of anonymity “because the White House had not announced Mr. Ross’s new duties”.

The New York Times report goes on:

Administration officials said Mr. Ross had been increasingly frustrated with his role at the State Department. He did not have close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and his negotiations over the State Department position had been long and complicated, in part because the department’s career diplomats balked at giving him a broader portfolio to include the Middle East.

Did not have close ties? Why then did she appoint him as her “special envoy”?

I sense that there is a story here, but I am not sure what it is. Is this about Iran, or an appointment that is not working out in State, or the White House needing to build bridges to AIPAC, which would not be at all happy with either the substance of President Obama’s position on Palestine or the pressure that he is trying to bring to bear on Mr Netanyahu? A space worth watching, I think.

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