Iraq: What's Next?
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: What is the way out?
Ross: I think we should be . . . I think we need a three-fold approach – three means employed when it comes to Iraq. One is negotiate with the Iraqi government and sectarian leaders a timetable for the U.S. to withdraw, which gives them an input. But it also says we’re getting out. Secondly, there should be a national reconciliation conference in parallel with this that involves also not just the national leaders in the center, but also the leaders who are being empowered by what we’re doing in the local areas right now. Because you need to create a bridge between the two, and that shouldn’t be disbanded until they reach an agreement. Now if they do reach agreement, we can be flexible in terms of how we approach the timetable for withdrawal. If they don’t reach agreement, then we can be much less flexible in terms of how we approach withdrawal. And the third – which should really be three parallel negotiations at once – we should be trying to broker with the neighbors, principally like between the Saudis and the Iranians, a set of understandings at least that can contain what’s going on in Iraq, because again you can play upon their mutual needs.
We need a comprehensive, three-fold approach, Ross says.