Dennis Ross’s Iran Plan
by Robert Dreyfuss
8 Apr 09 | The Nation
When Dennis Ross, a hawkish, pro-Israel adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, was elevated in February to the post of special adviser on “the Gulf and Southwest Asia”–i.e., Iran–Ross’s critics hoped that his influence would be marginal. After all, unlike special envoys George Mitchell (Israel-Palestine) and Richard Holbrooke (Afghanistan-Pakistan), whose appointments were announced with fanfare, Ross’s appointment was long delayed and then announced quietly, at night, in a press release.
But diplomats and Middle East watchers hoping Ross would be sidelined are wrong. He is building an empire at the State Department: hiring staff and, with his legendary flair for bureaucratic wrangling, cementing liaisons with a wide range of US officials. The Iran portfolio is his, says an insider. “Everything we’ve seen indicates that Ross has completely taken over the issue,” says a key Iran specialist. “He’s acting as if he’s the guy. Wherever you go at State, they tell you, ‘You’ve gotta go through Dennis.'”
It’s paradoxical that Obama, who made opening a dialogue with Iran into a crucial plank in his campaign, would hand the Iran file to Ross. Since taking office, Obama has taken a number of important steps to open lines to Iran, including a remarkable holiday greeting by video in which the president spoke directly to “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” adding, “We seek engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.” He invited Iran to attend an international conference on Afghanistan, where a top Iranian diplomat shook hands with Holbrooke; he’s allowing American diplomats to engage their Iranian counterparts; and he’s reportedly planning to dispatch a letter directly to Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ross, like his neoconservative co-thinkers, is explicitly skeptical about the usefulness of diplomacy with Iran. >>>