Can Dennis Ross bring Israel and US closer?

By Nathan Guttman, July 2, 2009

Veteran peace negotiator Dennis Ross is back in the US government’s Middle East portfolio in a move many interpret as a shift to the right for the administration.

After serving as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top adviser on Iran, Mr Ross is moving to the National Security Council (NSC), where he will be special adviser to the president on the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran and the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Mr Ross is considered to have close ties with Israeli officials. He previously chaired the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.

Israel believes Mr Ross can play a key role in easing tensions between Jerusalem and Washington over the settlement issue and that his sober approach toward a dialogue could balance other voices within the administration who have high hopes for diplomatic engagement with Tehran.

In his recent book, Myths, Illusions and Peace, co-authored with David Makovsky, Mr Ross supported engagement with Iran, but expressed skepticism as to its possible results.

A June 25 statement issued by the NSC did not make clear how Mr Ross would fit in with the existing Middle East team at the White House.

Sources said that his role would be to provide a strategic perspective on the region and focus on long-term planning. Mr Ross will not replace or be in charge of George Mitchell, who is Mr Obama’s special Middle East peace envoy. Government officials have hinted that he will bring to the administration a clearer vision that the region’s problems are related.

Last updated: 4:31pm, July 2 2009