Dennis Ross at J Street: Extremists Must Not Benefit From Protests in the Arab World

Ross dedicated most of his speech to Iran and the Middle East; assuring that security ties with Israel have never been stronger and they Obama administration is monitoring Iran.

U.S. President Barack Obama's special assistant, Dennis Ross, said Monday that Washington was concerned about the uprising in the Arab world, but remained dedicated to the Israel-Palestinian peace process and Iran's nuclear efforts.

Ross opened his address on the third day of the J Street's annual conference in Washington by discussing the Obama administration's concern regarding the revolutions in the Arab countries, particularly with regard to the challenge they posed to cMiddle East peace.

Dennis Ross, J Street
Natasha Mozgovaya

“Change in Egypt has created concern for many in the region; Egypt has been a pillar for Israel’s pursuit of peace. The last thing we want to see is extremists benefit from the situation," he said, adding that with regards to Israel "it’s the interest of Egypt that the peace becomes warmer, not colder."

Changing the topic to Israel, Ross stressed that one of the Obama administration's principles was “an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.”

He spoke about U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen's recent visit to the region, and said that the level of the security cooperation between the two countries has never been stronger.

"There are a number of clocks ticking. There is a demographic clock that all of you are aware of; there are also biological clocks of young leaders emerging – you want them to believe a solution is a possibility, not an impossibility," Ross said.

Asked about the possibility of the new American initiative, Ross said “we have to think through carefully what do we do on peace and how it relates to what the focus is on now in the region the relations between the rulers and ruled. We’ll make a judgment on where the process is and the sides are, the status quo is unsustainable."

He also referred to Iran, saying that "we will keep an eye on Iran and the pressure on. While the door will always remain open for diplomacy, but we remain determined to prevent Iran from acquiring the nuclear weapons and we won’t be deflected from this goal."

It was a very careful speech, reiterating statements previously made by Obama's administration regarding the Middle East. His address was greeted with surprising applause from the J Street crowd, known to be critical of Israel's policies.

Ross’s speech was followed by a panel discussion that made fun of Ross’s departure right after the speech.

Daniel Levy from the New America Foundation criticized Ross for offering few specifics.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen added his own rebuke, saying: “He sat in five administrations but couldn’t sit after the speech for the debate.”

With regard to Ross' remarks, Cohen said: “When I hear the word process, I am dying inside, there is no process and there is no peace," he added.