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Dennis Ross is So Very Special

A few Dennis Ross items. One — Greg Sargent reports that his appointment to some kind of Iran envoy gig is still on track despite the fact that the announcement keeps getting delayed. Two — Mike Crowley reports that “the holdup has nothing to do with Ross — but rather the fact that the administration hasn’t quite decided on its early public positioning and rhetoric towards Iran.” Three — Ross was initially rumored to be in line for a post with broader responsibilities than just Iran, but then it got whittled down, but Greg says it’s been whittled back up. Three — The Washington Post reminds us that Ross doesn’t actually favor sending an envoy to Iran:

“Keeping it completely private would protect each side from premature exposure and would not require either side to publicly explain such a move before it was ready,” Ross wrote in a lengthy paper, titled “Diplomatic Strategies for Dealing With Iran,” published by the Center for a New American Security in September. “It would strike the Iranians as more significant and dramatic than either working through the Europeans or non-officials — something that is quite familiar.”

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.”

This all adds up to Spencer Ackerman’s question of what the heck is an “Iran envoy” for anyway? The difference between Richard Holbrooke, special envoy, and our ambassadors to Pakistan and Afghanistan is that his ambit covers both countries. Similarly, George Mitchell’s not just an ambassador to Israel, he’s an envoy charged with facilitating diplomacy between Israel and its neighbors. But if our envoy to Iran only goes to Iran, then why isn’t he just an ambassador? And if he’s not even going to go to Iran, then what’s he doing at all? And if talks are going to be done in secret, then why publicly appoint someone to be in charge of secret talks? And to reiterate my earlier concerns, it seems to me that the official charged with negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program should have expertise in either Iran or else in disarmament negotiations.

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I’m going to suggest that this whole Ross-Iran idea doesn’t really make sense — the job Ross is well-suited to is Mitchell’s job. But Obama, wisely, decided to go with Mitchell rather than retreading with Ross. The Iran issue is, however, important in its own right. And it should be given to the right man. Not given to Ross to use as a platform from which to not negotiate with Iran, while meddling in vaguely defined ways throughout the region.