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Ex-Obama aide Ross: PM’s speech to Congress ‘definitely a mistake’

Many in Congress feel they’re being asked to publicly ‘choose between president and PM,’ he says; emerging deal keeps Iran a year from potential nukes

Veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Dennis Ross, a former Middle East aide to President Barack Obama, said Friday that he was “worried about the breakdown in trust” between Israel and the US amid a public disagreement with the Obama administration over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress on March 3.

The speech is openly opposed by the White House and some Democratic legislators.

Ross said the current spat between the two leaderships was “clearly one of the low points” in US-Israel relations, even as he acknowledged that Israeli prime ministers and US presidents have been at odds over various issues in the past.

“Israel has only one friend in the world that it can rely on and that’s the United States. It’s important that that relationship be on a solid footing and that it not become partisan,” he said during an interview with Channel 2 Friday night.

Ross said Netanyahu’s insistence to address Congress on Iran next week was a mistake and that it would have been preferable for the prime minister to ask to speak to both houses of Congress privately.

“I don’t have a problem with the prime minister coming and expressing his views. He could have expressed his views at AIPAC and he could go to the Congress” and hold private sessions where everyone would hear his views, said Ross, “but he doesn’t have to speak publicly to a joint session of Congress.” He added that the public platform Netanyahu chose made him look like he’s “so overtly challenging the president of the United States. It puts many in the Congress in a position where they feel like they have to choose between the president and the prime minister of Israel. It’s one thing to do that in private. It’s something else to do that in public.”

“When you make a mistake, you ought to admit the mistake and address it,” Ross said.

The prime minister said earlier Friday that he was determined to go to Washington next week to try to stop the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 world powers. His office later released a clip of him working on the text of the address. Netanyahu considers the deal, which he fears will leave Tehran with threshold nuclear powers, an existential threat to Israel.

Ross said that while the emerging agreement’s details were not yet fully known, any deal would not roll back Iran’s nuclear program dramatically, but would certainly control it. He said the deal, as reported, would appear to keep Iran at last a year from nuclear weapons, and that the reported inspection regime would enable the international community to know if it was trying to break out to the bomb and take appropriate action.

Snap inspections at declared and undeclared sites would apparently be part of the measures of transparency, Ross said, adding that if these measures were adequate and included consequences to any violations, including the threat of use of force, there would be a “higher level of confidence” in the deal.

In these remarks, Ross seemed to take a more supportive and less critical approach toward the nuclear deal, following an op-ed he co-wrote last month asserting that Obama had conceded far too much to Iran.

Ross, Eric Edelman, a former ambassador who served as the US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Ray Takeyh, a former Obama administration official and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a prominent political think tank, published the op-ed in Politico, an eminent US political publication, in which they urged the president to impose punitive measures on Tehran for fueling instability in the Middle East and to break the impasse in nuclear negotiations.

The authors called for a “revamped coercive strategy” that would curtail the Islamic Republic’s influence in the Middle East and a stop to further concessions in the efforts to reach a nuclear accord.

Ross, who is chair of the Jerusalem-based think tank, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, is known for facilitating peace talks between Jordan and Israel during the 1990s, and served in a succession of US administrations.

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