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Dennis Ross And Aging Arab Leaders

Roger Cohen has a long piece on Obama's Iran policy in the forthcoming NYT magazine, much of it focusing on the elusive Dennis Ross. The Ross material is interesting, although many of the particulars will be already familiar to people who have followed his adventures through outlets like this blog. This bit was new to me, however:

On April 29, in Dammam, in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, Ross sat down with King Abdullah. He talked to a skeptical monarch about the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Iran — and talked and talked and talked. When the king finally got to speak, according to one U.S. official fully briefed on the exchange, he began by telling Ross: “I am a man of action. Unlike you, I prefer not to talk a lot.” Then he posed several pointed questions about U.S. policy toward Iran: What is your goal? What will you do if this does not work? What will you do if the Chinese and the Russians are not with you? How will you deal with Iran’s nuclear program if there is not a united response? Ross, a little flustered, tried to explain that policy was still being fleshed out.  

The Saudis seem awfully cranky these days. Obama himself was also reportedly suffered a "tirade" from King Abdullah during his visit to Riyadh in early June.

One issue here--with broader implications for the peace process--may be age. Abdullah is 85 years old. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is 81. One former senior Bush foreign policy official with whom I spoke recently said that "the energy is less" in some Arab capitals than it was a few years ago, making it harder for U.S. dilomats to advance the peace process. Aging rulers sometimes hope for historic achievements to cement their place in history. But in this case, age may be a source of inertia.  

--Michael Crowley