Dennis Ross Out As Obama's Special Iran Adviser?

Amid the ongoing questions about the legitimacy of Iran's presidential election, there was a flurry today over whether the State Department's special adviser on Iran is on his way out.

Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross in 2002. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) hide caption

toggle caption AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The rumor surfaced in the on-line edition of the Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz. An article headlined "Why is Dennis Ross being ousted as Obama envoy to Iran?" quoted Washington sources as saying that Ross "will be abruptly relieved of his duties."

Ross is a diplomat and author who began his career during the Carter administration. He's probably best known for his work as Middle East envoy under President Bill Clinton.

Haaretz Correspondent Barak Ravid said "Washington Insiders" were speculating that Ross would be removed from his position for a variety of reasons. One possibility, Ravid noted, was that the Iranians were refusing to accept Ross because he was Jewish and because he was purported to have "pro-Israel leanings."

Another possibility, the article said, was that Ross is the co-author of a recently released book that raises the possibility of military action against Iran. The book, called "Myths, Illusions and Peace-Finding: A New Direction for American in the Middle East," advocates diplomacy with Iran, but adds "tougher polices - either militarily or meaningful containment - will be easier to sell internationally and domestically if we have diplomatically tried to resolve our differences with Iraq in a serious and credible fashion."

The Haaretz article made the rounds of foreign policy web sites, and correspondents at the State Department peppered spokesman Ian Kelly about it during the daily press briefing. Had Ross been fired? Was he being ousted? Kelly answered no to both questions, but he was less forthcoming when asked whether Ross was being reassigned. "look," Kelly responded, "he is in — he's in the building today. I was in his office today."

"Is it that he's being reassigned to another position at the White House?" a reporter asked. "Anything's possible," Kelly replied. "I could be fired today, too. I mean — (chuckles) — if you guys keep probing me on this."

Kelly also denied that Ross' book had raised any hackles at State. Kelly noted that Ross was working at a Washington think tank when he wrote the book "and he's entitled — he was entitled to his opinion. He wrote the book before he came on board here."

David Makovsky, Ross' co-author on "Myths, Illusions and Peace," is denying the Haaretz rumor. Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told NPR that he wasn't ruling out potential moves in the future, but that the central premise, that Ross was about to be abruptly relieved of his duties was "not just inaccurate, but untrue."

The flurry over the Ross rumors underscores how touchy the issue of Iran policy is now, while the Obama administration tries to figure out how to deal with the apparent triumph of hardliners in Tehran. If the administration did have plans for Ross, whatever they may have been, the whole kerfuffle may have been enough to shunt them aside for awhile.



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