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Waiting For Dennis Ross

It's a popular diversion in foreign-policy circles right now to speculate about why Dennis Ross, who is reportedly set to be the State Department's lead official on Iran, has not yet been officially announced as part of the new Obama-Clinton team (even though Ross has already started showing up for work at Foggy Bottom).

I'm told the holdup has nothing to do with Ross--but rather the fact that the administration hasn't quite decided on its early public positioning and rhetoric towards Iran. And thus they don't want to stage a press event sure to prompt nettlesome questions they're not ready to answer. This seemed to be evident during yesterday's State Department briefing:

QUESTION: Robert, this is – with Iran being such a high-profile issue with this Administration, when can we expect to see somebody, like a special envoy, who will be tasked specifically with looking at this?

MR. WOOD: I can’t say when that will happen. But clearly, the focus of our efforts here, once the review is complete and once we have the – you know, the complete team in place, will be how we can convince Iran to -- you know, to back down from moving forward with its nuclear program. As I said, it’s a major concern.

QUESTION: But it seems quite noticeable at this point that there is a lack of a special representative on that issue when you have two other very important places that very quickly got somebody in command.
MR. WOOD: Well, look, when we’re ready to announce someone to, you know, deal with the Iran portfolio, and somebody will do that -- it’s a concern – Iran’s program and Iran’s behavior worldwide, but I can’t tell you when that’s going to happen. But we’ll certainly let you know as soon as we can on that. 
QUESTION: Are you in the process of reviewing candidates? Is that what’s holding it up?
MR. WOOD: I’m not going to get into the --
QUESTION: It’s part of the review.
MR. WOOD: -- process of what’s goingon.
QUESTION: How long will that review take?
MR. WOOD: It’s hard to put a timeframe on it.

Also, as I understand it, there's been some confusion about just what Ross will do. Some early reports called him a "special envoy" to Iran. But as I understand it the idea is that he'll be more of a coordinator/"senior advisor" type. Which makes sense, of course: US policy is still far from the point at which we'd have an envoy flying into Tehran on a regular basis. Any direct diplomacy is going to be slow and oh-so careful, more like wading gingerly into frigid water--in contrast to the headfirst plunges we're about to see from Mitchell and Holbrooke.

P.S. At today's briefing, the cat and mouse game got a little comical:

QUESTION: Getting back to Iran, what’s the status of Dennis Ross? And is he in this building?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything on Dennis Ross at this point. Anything else?

QUESTION: So he’s not in this building?
MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen him.

Which of course is not the same as saying 'no.'

--Michael Crowley