Veteran Middle East negotiator Ross to advise Clinton on Iran

State Department names Dennis Ross as adviser for the Gulf and south-west Asia

The Obama administration has completed its foreign policy team for the interlocking conflicts of the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan by appointing another high-profile former envoy as a special adviser on Iran.

The State Department announced that Dennis Ross, who served as Middle East negotiator under the Clinton and George W Bush administrations, is to be special adviser to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for the Gulf and south-west Asia. But it remains unclear how Mr Ross will interact with his fellow advisers who report to Barack Obama and there could be tensions among the "team of rivals".

"This is a region in which America is fighting two wars and facing challenges of ongoing conflict, terror, proliferation, access to energy, economic development and strengthening democracy and the rule of law," said the State Department spokesman Robert Wood in a statement announcing the Ross appointment on Monday. He said Mr Ross would provide "strategic advice and perspective on the region, offer assessments and also act to ensure effective policy integration throughout the region".

Mr Ross, whose appointment had been expected, is currently counsellor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro- Israel think-tank. In an article in Newsweek last December, he urged the US to work with European nations, the Chinese, the Japanese and Saudis – rather than the UN – to apply pressure on Iran through "smart sanctions" as part of a strategy aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions.

Mr Ross's appointment follows that of the experienced troubleshooter, George Mitchell, as Mr Obama's special envoy to the Middle East and the heavyweight Richard Holbrooke as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their appointments were announced by Mrs Clinton at an event attended by Mr Obama and the Vice-President Joe Biden on 22 January.

Iran, which has influence throughout the Middle East and the "Af-Pak" region via its strategic allies and ethnic brethren, could play a critical role in ending regional conflicts if Mr Obama's plan to engage Tehran in a "constructive dialogue" is successful. However the US President insists that he will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power which, he said earlier this month, would "set off a nuclear arms race in the region that would be profoundly destabilising".

Last week, Mrs Clinton announced that Stephen Bosworth, a former US ambassador to Seoul and a veteran North Korea watcher, will serve as special envoy to six-party talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament.

To complete his palette of foreign envoys, Mr Obama is reported to be open to the idea of a special envoy for Darfur. The actor George Clooney, who met Mr Obama on Sunday to urge him to appoint a full-time regional envoy who would report directly to the White House, told reporters that the president and Mr Biden had assured him that "this is high on their agenda". "This is a huge policy step for us," he added.

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