Obama to base his Middle East policy on army of envoys
Israeli gov't sources: Dennis Ross and Colin Powell among candidates being considered for post.
Jerusalem has received various reports in recent weeks indicating that American foreign policy in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia after president-elect Barack Obama takes office will operate on the basis of special envoys who will report directly to Obama and his designated secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
Obama and Clinton's transition teams are maintaining secrecy and minimal ties with Israeli diplomats. Obama and Clinton also directed their people not to take part in the policy debates of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center forum, attended by Israeli politicians and officials, which took place earlier this month in Washington, D.C.
However, senior government sources in Jerusalem said that the information they have received indicates that the new administration is planning a hierarchy of about five special envoys to various regions, overseen by a kind of "super coordinator," who would answer directly to the president and the secretary of state.
The sources said that the new policy is part of Obama's and Clinton's understanding that all the conflicts in the Middle East and Southeast Asia are to some extent connected to the Iranian nuclear program and withdrawal from Iraq. Therefore, it is important to operate in a number of parallel but coordinated channels to attain achievements on all fronts.
The most prominent name in consideration for the top coordinator post is Dennis Ross, who served as President Bill Clinton's special envoy to the Middle East. Ross' name has also come up as a possible senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.
The envoy to the Middle East would oversee the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, negotiations between Syria and Israel and the situation in Lebanon.
Short-listed for this job are Colin Powell, who was President George W. Bush's secretary of state during his first term; Dan Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005; and Martin Indyk, who is close to Hillary Clinton and who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997 and from 2000 to 2001.
The other four envoys would be: to Iraq to liaise with the Iraqi government on U.S. troop withdrawal; to Iran to oversee the beginning of dialogue and participate in international discussions on an incentive package; to Afghanistan and Pakistan to stabilize the security situation; and to North Korea to watch over denuclearization and the lifting of international sanctions.