By now it’s apparent that Dennis Ross, the controversial former official from the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs, didn’t get the post he wanted, namely, special envoy for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton vis-a-vis Iran. Instead, he got named to some fairly obscure post as “special adviser” to Clinton on “the Gulf and Southwest Asia.”
Somehow or other, Ross’ post involves Iran, since (among other things) Iran is situated in Southwest Asia. In deference to Arab sensibilities, the State Department doesn’t call it “the Persian Gulf,” as most maps do.) But below I’ve posted a somewhat hilarious exchange that took place today between Robert Wood, the department spokesman, and the media, who press Wood hard to answer some simple questions: Does Ross’ portfolio include Iran? What, exactly, is Southwest Asia? Why did Ross not get the envoy treatment that, for instance, was given to Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Afghanistan-Pakistan envoy Richard Holbrooke? And, why, for goodness sake, did they announce Ross’ appointment at 9 pm? (On that latter question, as you will see, Wood replied: “We just couldn’t get it out until late.”)
Ross is controversial because, as many Iran watchers point out, he is seen as exceedingly close to Israel, somewhat diminishing his ability to talk to Iran.
Over at The Washington Note, Steve Clemons points out, in regard to Ross’ appointment:
This is amazing news given early world and rumor from quite solid sources that Ambassador Ross, a very distinguished diplomat who promotes a hawkish posture on Iran, was going to be not only the President’s special envoy to Iran but also basically a super envoy ranking above others for the entire Middle East region.
Without going into deep detail, this came “undone”.
I hope the following (rather long) exchange between Wood and reporters amuses you:
QUESTION: Dennis Ross?
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is he in charge exactly of?
MR. WOOD: Well, Dennis is –
QUESTION: Is it Iran? And if it’s not Iran – if it’s Iran, why is it not written in the statement?
MR. WOOD: Well, let me just start off by saying, the Secretary is very happy that Dennis Ross agreed to serve as her special advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia. What Dennis is going to be charged with doing is trying to integrate policy development and implementation across a number of offices and officials in the State Department. And, you know, he is going to be providing the Secretary with strategic advice. He will be also trying to ensure that there’s a coherence in our policies and strategies across the region. Let me be clear, he’s not an envoy. He will not be negotiating. He’ll be working on regional issues. He will not be – in terms of negotiating, will not be involved in the peace process. But again, he is going to be advising the Secretary on long-term strategic issues across the region.