Iran General NewsAdministration plans to move top Iran expert to White...

Administration plans to move top Iran expert to White House


ImageNew York Times: With the White House assuming a more central role in dealing with Iran, the Obama administration plans to move its senior Iran policy maker, Dennis B. Ross, to the National Security Council from the State Department, two administration officials said Monday.

The New York Times

Published: June 16, 2009

ImageWASHINGTON — With the White House assuming a more central role in dealing with Iran, the Obama administration plans to move its senior Iran policy maker, Dennis B. Ross, to the National Security Council from the State Department, two administration officials said Monday.

The move comes as the administration struggles to fashion a response to Iran’s election and its chaotic aftermath, though that effort was not the reason for his new job, these officials said.

Instead, the change reflects that the White House has become the focus of action on Iran. President Obama reached out to the Iranian people with a videotaped New Year’s greeting, and the president’s National Security Council is driving his engagement policy, these officials said.

Mr. Ross, 60, is expected to have a broader portfolio at the White House than he does at the State Department, where his title is special adviser for the gulf and Southwest Asia.

The officials said Mr. Ross was likely to remain influential on Iran policy, as well as offering strategic advice on the broader Middle East. He was one of Mr. Obama’s principal advisers on Arab-Israeli policy during the election campaign.

Mr. Ross has been in the thick of deliberations over how to respond to events in Tehran, and he was at the White House on Monday. So far, the administration’s public statements have been carefully modulated, so as not to give Iran’s hard-liners an excuse to claim American meddling.

The administration declined to confirm that Mr. Ross was moving. “He worked hard throughout the weekend, and he’s continuing to do his job today,” the State Department spokesman, Ian C. Kelly, said. “If and when there is some kind of personnel announcement, I’d be happy to let you know.”

Administration officials said Mr. Ross had been increasingly frustrated with his role at the State Department. He did not have close ties to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and his negotiations over the State Department position had been long and complicated, in part because the department’s career diplomats balked at giving him a broader portfolio to include the Middle East.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House had not announced Mr. Ross’s new duties.

Mr. Ross’s State Department title reflected the awkward territory he occupied between two other high-profile appointees: former Senator George J. Mitchell, the special envoy for the Middle East, and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Unlike Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Holbrooke, who were introduced by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama in an elaborate ceremony at the State Department, Mr. Ross’s appointment was announced by the department in a terse statement, released one night in February.

Mr. Ross has been active behind the scenes. He recently visited several countries in the region. But Mr. Holbrooke grabbed the limelight when he became the first Obama emissary to meet an Iranian counterpart, chatting with a deputy foreign minister at a conference in the Netherlands.

Mr. Ross may have also ruffled some feathers at the State Department with his new book, “Myths, Illusions & Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.” In it, he and his co-author, David Makovsky, lay out prescriptions for how to deal with Iran. Among other steps, they suggest a “direct, secret back-channel” to talk to the Iranian government.

Mr. Ross’s book should not be read as a guide to official policy, administration officials said. But he won an impromptu endorsement when Mr. Kelly, the State Department spokesman, said at a briefing on Monday: “It’s a very good book, by the way. I started reading it over the weekend.”

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

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