State department avoids Iran when talking about Ross
Following up on my earlier post, Robert Dreyfuss offers this amusing exchange between reporters and State Department spokesperson Robert Wood about Ross' responsibilities and why they are making the announcement at 9pm:
QUESTION: Dennis Ross?
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: What is he in charge exactly of?
MR. WOOD: Well, Dennis is –
QUESTION: Is it Iran? And if it's not Iran – if it's Iran, why is it not written in the statement?
MR. WOOD: Well, let me just start off by saying, the Secretary is very
happy that Dennis Ross agreed to serve as her special advisor for the
Gulf and Southwest Asia. What Dennis is going to be charged with doing
is trying to integrate policy development and implementation across a
number of offices and officials in the State Department. And, you know,
he is going to be providing the Secretary with strategic advice. He
will be also trying to ensure that there's a coherence in our policies
and strategies across the region. Let me be clear, he's not an envoy.
He will not be negotiating. He'll be working on regional issues. He
will not be – in terms of negotiating, will not be involved in the
peace process. But again, he is going to be advising the Secretary on
long-term strategic issues across the region.
QUESTION: Can you give us – well, what is the State Department's
definition geographically of Southwest Asia? What countries does that
MR. WOOD: Matt, I didn't —
QUESTION: No, you guys named an envoy for Southwest Asia. I presume that you know what countries that includes.
MR. WOOD: Yes. Of course, we know. I just – I don't have the list to
run off – you know, right off the top of my head here. But obviously,
that's going to encompass – that region encompasses Iran. It will – you
know, it'll deal with —
QUESTION: Does it include Iraq?
MR. WOOD: Indeed, it does. He is going to be, again, as I said,
providing her with advice – strategic advice, looking at the long term,
the bigger picture and how we can make sure that our policies are
coherent across the board in the region. And as I said, the Secretary
is very pleased that Dennis has agreed to do this. He's got years of
experience in the region. And, you know, it's a daunting task, but it's
one that she felt was necessary.
QUESTION: And so, does it include parts of the Middle East?
MR. WOOD: Yes.
QUESTION: It does? Does it include Syria, and it includes Israel and it includes Jordan?
MR. WOOD: Well, he'll be looking at the entire region that will include, you know –
QUESTION: Where does that stop? I mean, you know, you have NEA
which, you know, runs all the way to Morocco. So does it include –
MR. WOOD: Well, he's going to be in touch with a number of officials who work on issues throughout this region.
QUESTION: Does it include Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, countries that
are within the – within the Middle East or within the Near Eastern
Affairs Bureau, but are not necessarily technically part of Southwest
MR. WOOD: He will be providing advice to the Secretary on a – across
that entire region, where appropriate, where she needs it, and that's
the position he will serve.
QUESTION: So he's going to meet with the leaders in the region as well, so you said he is going to offer an assessment —
MR. WOOD: That's right. At some point, he will.
QUESTION: — including the Iranians?
MR. WOOD: Well, I'm not sure at this point. But again, our policy
with regard to Iran is under review, so once that review is completed,
we'll be able to go forward vis-à-vis Iran. But until that time —
QUESTION: Well, was there a consideration at some point that you
would have a special envoy for Iran? And why didn't you now go in that
MR. WOOD: Well, a decision was made by the Secretary that she needed
broad strategic advice to look at a range of issues across the entire
region that we just talked about. And it was felt that his skills could
be better used to do that type of work, given the years of experience
that he's had dealing with the Middle East, other parts of the world.
And so, again, as I said, Iran will be one of those countries that he
will be, you know, looking at in his portfolio. But —
QUESTION: The military sometimes refer to parts of the -stans, Central Asia, as Southwest Asia. Are those included in your —
MR. WOOD: Well, look —
QUESTION: Can you find out? Because, I mean, this is —
MR. WOOD: We can get you that. Yeah, we can get you a breakdown of
QUESTION: I mean, does this – is there a geographic limit to his
portfolio, or is it really an issues-based thing so that he could be
dealing with Morocco and Algeria —
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: — and Tunisia —
MR. WOOD: I would look at it, Matt, as more of a regional —
QUESTION: — and Kyrgyzstan, and the -stans that are not covered by
Ambassador Holbrooke? And does it include Turkey? Does it – you know,
there are a lot of unanswered questions from – from the statement last
night as to exactly what he's going to be doing. I mean, I presume it's
all of the Gulf – Saudi Arabia, that makes sense. But does it include
Somalia, which is – you know, that there is – does it include – I don't
QUESTION: Or is it (inaudible) Iran?
MR. WOOD: Your question is – you know, let me answer your —
QUESTION: It could be anything. Or is he limited by the geographic —
QUESTION: Or did you just not want to put Iran in the name, and so this is your clever way of doing that?
MR. WOOD: Can I speak now?
MR. WOOD: Thank you, and thank you. Look, it's more – he's going to
be providing advice to the Secretary on a number of regional issues,
and I would not try to limit Dennis's advice to, you know, just those
regions. He may have other – you know, he may have advice that he wants
to give the Secretary on other issues. I don't think we're trying to
narrow it here. If you're looking for a geographical breakdown of those
countries that he will be looking —
QUESTION: It would be nice to find out what the State Department considers to be Southwest Asia.
MR. WOOD: We can certainly do that for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: And why Iran was not mentioned in the statement? And why was it published at 9:00 p.m.?
MR. WOOD: Well, it was published at 9:00 p.m. because we – that was
the time when we had it ready to go. And so there was no – somebody had
said to me in an email or something that we were trying to hide
something, and that's absolutely not the case. That's when it was ready
to go, and that's when we – the Secretary wanted that announcement to
go out at some point yesterday, and it did.
QUESTION: Yeah, but when she —
MR. WOOD: We just couldn't get it out until late.
QUESTION: When she wants to announce the nomination of Richard
Holbrooke, the President comes for announcing that. So it's not the
same kind of announcement. It's very different. Why?
MR. WOOD: It's different because the duties are different here. He
is serving as an advisor to the Secretary. And the reason why we didn't
mention Iran specifically is because his duties are going to engage the
entire region, as I mentioned. So it's not just Iran. It's other
countries in the region, other issues.
QUESTION: Robert, does he have a specific role in the Iran review?
And when you talk about the Afghanistan review, you've got Holbrooke
and Bruce Riedel and others. Is there a similar structure for the Iran
review? And would he have a certain status in that review?
MR. WOOD: Well, he will certainly – the Secretary will certainly
seek out his advice with regard to, you know, Iran. There's no question
about that. There's not a similar structure in place, you know, for
this type of review. You know, we don't have a cookie – you know, what
do you call it, a cookie-cutter approach to, you know, doing reviews.
You involve the people who you think are necessary and can provide you
with the appropriate expertise and advice, and that's how you conduct