Dennis Ross is an American diplomat and author. He has served as the Director of Policy Planning in the State Department under President George H. W. Bush, the special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, and is currently a special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia (that includes Iran) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ambassador Dennis Ross is The Washington Institute's counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow. For more than twelve years, Ambassador Ross played a leading role in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process and dealing directly with the parties in negotiations. A highly skilled diplomat, Ambassador Ross was U.S. point man on the peace process in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. He was instrumental in assisting Israelis and Palestinians to reach the 1995 Interim Agreement; he also successfully brokered the 1997 Hebron Accord, facilitated the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, and intensively worked to bring Israel and Syria together.
A scholar and diplomat with more than two decades of experience in Soviet and Middle East policy, Ambassador Ross worked closely with Secretaries of State James Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright. Prior to his service as special Middle East coordinator under President Clinton, Ambassador Ross served as director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff in the first Bush administration. In that capacity, he played a prominent role in U.S. policy toward the former Soviet Union, the unification of Germany and its integration into NATO, arms control negotiations, and the 1991 Gulf War coalition. During the Reagan administration, he served as director of Near East and South Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff and deputy director of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment. Ambassador Ross was awarded the Presidential Medal for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service by President Clinton, and Secretaries Baker and Albright presented him with the State Department's highest award.
Question: Where do Israeli and American foreign policies converge?
Dennis Ross: Well I think ___________ for peace, because I think it’s __________ United States. The United States favors peace because it’s right, and because it makes it easier for us to have good relationships with Israelis and Arabs. So there’s a convergence there. Now sometimes there’s a divergence in that sometimes the U.S. is more prepared to push farther than the Israelis think that their position of security can afford, as well as the way they look at their neighbors; and their concerns about how their neighbors may misread some of the moves.
So that’s one area where there’s a potential divergence.
There’s a convergence also, I think, in terms of also both being threatened by radical Islam. Both of us are, I think, targets of the radical Islamists. We’re seen as being connected, and we’ll always been seen as being connected. And that creates also a powerful sense of convergence. Where there’s a potential for divergence is because the U.S. is so sensitive to wanting to have a certain kind of position in the Middle East, you know sometimes it is more concerned about its relationship with the Arab world even if they would come at some cost with relationship to Israel.
So I think that’s an area of some potential tension. But even here, we’re in a world now where many in the Arab world recognizes that radical Islamists are as much a threat to them as they are to anyone else. So there could be a natural convergence between all of us – between what I would say those modern Arab states, the Israelis, and the United States.
The competition with the radical Islamists may lead to different prescriptions on how to do it. Some of the Arab states will say, “Gee, we need the Palestinian monkey off our back, and then we can do much more with the Israelis.” And the way they would get the monkey off the back is basically have Israel concede anything. And from their standpoint, there’s no concession that’s too large. From the Israeli standpoint, obviously the concession that threatens the viability of the state is too large. So you know that’s where somehow the U.S. has to find a medium, a balance. That’s one of the things that a mediator has to do.
So I think there’s much more where we have convergences with the Israelis. Certainly in terms of values, we have a fundamental convergence with the Israelis. In terms of cooperating on military kinds of issues, or intelligence kinds of issues, we have enormous convergence with the Israelis. And I think in terms of wanting peace, and even the competition with the radical Islamists, the struggle with radical Islamists, we have a great deal of convergence. It’s where we get into those points where the Arab sets of interest are seen as somehow intentioned – especially because we’re trying to maintain certain kinds of relations with them – they have views of what it will take to be able to deal with the threats to all of us that might not converge exactly with the way the Israelis see those threats.
Recorded on: September 12, 2007