The matchless Nelson Report has updated the news about the prospective appointment of Dennis Ross as Special Envoy for Iran, and the update is even more concerning than the original report. Chris Nelson apparently got hold of an internal memo from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in which its director, Robert Satloff, outlines Ross’ much-expanded job description. It reads as if Ross will be a sort of Middle East “czar”. Here it is, as quoted in the Report:
To: Members of the Board of Trustees
From: Chairman Fred Lafer, President Howard Berkowitz, and Executive
Director Robert Satloff
Re: Ambassador Dennis Ross to Join Obama Administration
We are delighted to share the news that Ambassador Dennis Ross, counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute, has accepted an invitation to join the Obama administration as ambassador-at-large and senior advisor to Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton.
In that seventh-floor job, designed especially for him, Ambassador Ross
will be the secretary’s top advisor on a wide range of Middle East issues,
from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran. Ambassador Ross will not
reprise his previous role as special Arab-Israeli peace envoy, a post that
will be held by someone else; rather he will be working closely with both
the special envoy and the secretary. Ambassador Ross is expected to take
his post immediately after inauguration.
We know you share our pride in Ambassador Ross’s achievements, which
reflect not only his outstanding contribution to U.S. foreign policy, but
also the Institute’s unique role in supporting those who can advance peace
and security in the Middle East.
Needless to say, if the memo is genuine (and I have no doubt that it is) and accurate, Ross’ appointment marks a major setback for those who had hoped that Obama might bring some fresh thinking to Middle East policy, particularly vis-a-vis Iran and Israel-Palestine.
P.S. Haass has vigorously denied that he has been offered the Israel-Palestinian portfolio, although I’ve heard the denials are not entirely persuasive. If Haass indeed does not get it, then Dan Kurtzer, who served as a close adviser to Obama during the campaign, would be considered the most likely choice at this point, although Martin Indyk would, I imagine, be far more compatible with Ross. Indeed, neither Kurtzer nor Haass may find the job particularly inviting if they have to report through Ross to Clinton and the White House.