Dennis Ross Expands His Portfolio
By Al Kamen
Remember when the Washington Institute for Near East Policy announced Jan. 7 how happy they were that Dennis B. Ross, a senior official in the pro-Israel think tank, was going to get some kind of uber-job, "designed especially for him," that would make him the administration's top adviser on a "wide range of Middle East issues, from the Arab-Israel peace process to Iran"? That announcement was so premature that it nearly killed Ross's chances of getting any job in the administration -- and he ended up at the State Department with a rather vague title having to do with Iran.
But eventually everything becomes true in Washington. It's been rumored that Ross is headed to the White House National Security Council, but now the picture of his duties seems to be getting much clearer. It does indeed appear to be a big job -- a very big job. His duties will include not only Iran but also Iraq and the Middle East peace process -- a move that has gotten lots of folks at the NSC very upset, not to mention special Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell.
The most controversial aspect is that Ross will take over the Iraq portfolio from Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, a three-star general who was overseeing both Iraq and Afghanistan. Now Lute will just do Afghanistan -- where he'll be working closely with envoy Richard Holbrooke -- while Iraq will be part of Ross's duties.
Interestingly, Ross has about as much experience with Iraq (virtually zero) as the new U.S. ambassador there, Christopher R. Hill. And both were key players in some of the greatest diplomatic flops of the last 20 years. Hill was point man for North Korea nuke negotiations during the Bush administration. And Ross, an early and ardent Obama backer, has lots of experience in Mideast peace efforts, having been a key player in the Clinton administration's failed effort to broker a deal.
As for Iran, there's no special envoy, at least just yet. That designation apparently will await some diplomatic thawing.
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