Friday, June 19, 2009

Dennis Ross put in “Time-out”?

BY FREDERICK C BUTLER, CNI Communications Director

WASHINGTON, DC (June 18, 2009) –President Obama’s decision to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prior to Iran’s nuclear proliferation as a first step to a Mid-East Peace Policy has caused a “rift” between the Israeli coalition government and the US administration.

But, recent activity within the administration may suggest that the “rift” has found a new home –in the White House.

Iran Special Envoy Dennis Ross was relieved of his duties and reassigned to a post in the National Security Council at the White House.

Ross, who co-authored the book Myths, Illusions & Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, argues that tougher policies toward Iran — "either militarily or meaningful containment" — will be easier to sell if diplomacy is attempted first. The book also implies that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have no bearings over the problem with Iran whom the US should deal with independently.

These comments are similar to the stance of Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on his trip to Washington supplied the same rhetoric. However; the Obama administration believes that a peaceful Holy Land will isolate Iran and the rest of the Muslim world giving the US more authority in future negotiations with the Islamic Republic.

Iran has persistently refused to accept Ross as a U.S. emissary given the diplomat's Jewish background as well as his purported pro-Israel leanings. Ross is known to maintain contacts with numerous senior officials in Israel's defense establishment and the Israeli government.

According to Time magazine, behind the scenes senior officials in several branches of the Administration confirm the move and knock down speculation that it is a demotion in response to concern over Ross's positions on Iran. "Everybody knew his positions," said an official.

But, Ross’ new post as senior advisor to the National Security Council (NSC) will pit the diplomat closer to the President’s ear. But, there are already senior officials in place at the in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Gulf and Iran affairs –all areas of Ross’ expertise.

So, is this move an effort by the administration to prevent the hawkish diplomat from spoiling the peace process? Or is this just another opportunity for Ross to gain greater influence over Obama’s Mid-East policies?

The window of opportunity for peace in the volatile region is slowly closing. If the President wants to ensure peace in the region, and subsequently US national security, he will need to act swift and smart. Hopefully, this move is the administration doing just that.