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 are you from and how has that shaped you?
Dennis Ross: Originally I was born in San Francisco, grew up in _________ County. So I’m a Californian. Many people have said that that explains why __________.
I don’t know that growing up in California per se shaped who I am. But I think growing up when I grew up shaped who I am. I grew up __________ child of the 1960s. My first political activity was in the Civil Rights Movement. The very first campaign I worked in was a fair housing provision in the mid-1960s. Vietnam shaped me dramatically in terms of mindset. The Kennedys, their sense of public service, also had an impact. My first serious presidential campaign was working on the Robert Kennedy campaign. So all of these, I think, had as much to do with shaping my attitudes, my instincts, a sense of passion for public service. All of it came from that more than coming from California per se.
Question: Who inspired your choice of profession?
Dennis Ross: I don’t know that there was a particular person who inspired it, but there were, I think, some . . . Well I would say the following. I would say one, I read Richard Wright when I was in high school. And this really had a profound impact on my sense not just of __________, but a sense that justice required certain kinds of behavior. And it also meant you couldn’t sit on the sidelines. You couldn’t just be an observer of this. And I think it’s in that context that when the Kennedys spoke about new responsibilities – and certainly when Robert Kennedy’s campaign came along – I think he was very much a symbol for me. I was coming much more of age at that time, and it was a kind of call to action that I saw in him. And he was quite inspiring for me.
Recorded on: September 12, 2007