Christian Science Monitor Correspondent Scott Peterson noted in a February 5, 2009, dispatch from Iran that, "The Obama administration [raised concerns in Iran about improving relations when it] announced this week that it will retain Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department official who also sparked complaints from Iran when, working for [President George W.] Bush." According to The Monitor, "he spearheaded US efforts to convince international banks as well as shipping and insurance companies to stop all dealings with Iran."
"But it is Obama's expected pick to handle the Iran portfolio – former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross – that has raised most questions in Tehran," Peterson reports reports. "Though not officially announced, diplomats say the appointment is all but certain. In Iran, Mr. Ross has been vilified as too hawkish and too close to Israel and pro-Israel lobbies in the US to be effective."
Peterson's observations on the prospect of improved relations between the United States and Iran are in a two-part report. One article is headlined "Iranians wary of Obama's approach." The second asks: "Is Iran prepared to undo 30 years of anti-Americanism?"
News that Ross would definitely be "the man" began to circulate within the diplomatic community in Washington, D.C., and the Middle East, in late January 2009, after journalists published reports based a memo circulated among staffers at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the pro-Israel think tank Ross has worked for since 2001. The memo essentially said Ross' appointment was a done deal.
On January 22, 2009, Politico circulated a copy of the memo, which states:
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.
The question today is why hasn't a Ross appointment been announced? Is he a detriment to attempts to forge a new beginning in U.S.- Middle East diplomacy? Did George John's Mitchell's appointment as the Obama Administration's highly regarded Middle East special envoy signal a lesser role, if any, for Ross? Just asking.
So, what's the bottom line? Both Iran and the U.S. have to swallow some pride and make concessions if relations are to improve.
For another perspective on the Ross affair, see Time magazine's "Obama Mideast Watch: "Where's Dennis?"
Note: This post was first published at The Foreign Policy Monitor & Review on February 07, 2009.
Expert Biography Photo: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.