What's Dennis Ross's Job? Not An Envoy...An "Adviser"


Check out this fascinating exchange between reporters and a State Department spokesperson, Robert Wood.

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. 

QUESTION:  Can you give us - well, what is the State Department's definition geographically of Southwest Asia?  What countries does that include? 

MR. WOOD:  Matt, I didn't --

QUESTION:  No, you guys named an envoy for Southwest Asia.  I presume that you know what countries that includes. 

MR. WOOD:  Yes.  Of course, we know.  I just - I don't have the list to run off - you know, right off the top of my head here.  But obviously, that's going to encompass - that region encompasses Iran.  It will - you know, it'll deal with --

QUESTION:  Does it include Iraq? 

MR. WOOD:  Indeed, it does.  He is going to be, again, as I said, providing her with advice - strategic advice, looking at the long term, the bigger picture and how we can make sure that our policies are coherent across the board in the region.  And as I said, the Secretary is very pleased that Dennis has agreed to do this.  He's got years of experience in the region.  And, you know, it's a daunting task, but it's one that she felt was necessary. 

QUESTION:  And so, does it include parts of the Middle East? 

MR. WOOD:  Yes

QUESTION:  It does?  Does it include Syria, and it includes Israel and it includes Jordan? 

MR. WOOD:  Well, he'll be looking at the entire region that will include, you know -

QUESTION:  Where does that stop?  I mean, you know, you have NEA which, you know, runs all the way to Morocco.  So does it include -

MR. WOOD:  Well, he's going to be in touch with a number of officials who work on issues throughout this region. 

QUESTION:  Does it include Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, countries that are within the - within the Middle East or within the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, but are not necessarily technically part of Southwest Asia? 

MR. WOOD:  He will be providing advice to the Secretary on a - across that entire region, where appropriate, where she needs it, and that's the position he will serve. 

QUESTION:  So he's going to meet with the leaders in the region as well, so you said he is going to offer an assessment --

MR. WOOD:  That's right.  At some point, he will. 

QUESTION:  -- including the Iranians? 

MR. WOOD:  Well, I'm not sure at this point.  But again, our policy with regard to Iran is under review, so once that review is completed, we'll be able to go forward vis-à-vis Iran.  But until that time --

QUESTION:  Well, was there a consideration at some point that you would have a special envoy for Iran?  And why didn't you now go in that direction?

MR. WOOD:  Well, a decision was made by the Secretary that she needed broad strategic advice to look at a range of issues across the entire region that we just talked about.  And it was felt that his skills could be better used to do that type of work, given the years of experience that he's had dealing with the Middle East, other parts of the world.  And so, again, as I said, Iran will be one of those countries that he will be, you know, looking at in his portfolio.  But --

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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