Is Dennis Ross Ambassador to Iran Under a Different Name?
Here’s an interesting story from The Washington Post about what key Obama administration officials and would-be officials make of potential openings to Iran, notwithstanding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s demand for a U.S. “apology” for past crimes. The article quotes a recent paper by Dennis Ross, who hasn’t yet been officially announced as the State Department’s special envoy to Iran, as favoring back-channel outreach at first:
Ross said the United States should ask the Iranian representative during the private talks to explain how his government sees U.S. goals toward Iran and how Iran thinks the United States perceives Iranian goals. The purpose of this dialogue, he wrote, is to “find a way to show the Iranians that we are prepared to listen and to try to understand Iranian concerns and respond to them, but ultimately no progress can be made if our concerns cannot also be understood and addressed.”
Others, including counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, prefer a direct and more dovish approach. (Yeah, that’s right, that Brennan.) But here’s my question. What sense does it make to have Ross be a special envoy to … just one country?
The other special envoys, Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, have numerous countries within their portfolios. When the government special envoy positions deal with single countries with which it doesn’t have diplomatic relations, it typically creates posts for specific issues, like human rights in North Korea, for instance. I know, I know, the Tehran embassy wasn’t built in a day, but it still seems like Ross’ would-be billet is an odd bureaucratic entity.
It’s also one that raises questions about how any special envoy sees the job. Is there a specific goal, like compliance with the Non Proliferation Treaty, or even normalized U.S.-Iran relations? Or is it to simply see what can be yielded through outreach, if anything? Where will the envoy talk with the Iranians — Iran, the United States, or a third country? It would be nice to have some clarity here.