Ex-Adviser to Obama Says Susan Rice Accused Israeli Leader of Racism – Peter Baker/The New York Times
OCCUPIED WASHINGTON — Dennis B. Ross, the former Middle East adviser to President Obama, faults Susan E. Rice, the president’s national security adviser, for exacerbating tensions with Israel during the talks that led up to the recent nuclear accord with Iran and quotes her accusing Israel’s prime minister of racism.
In a new book on Israeli-American relations, Mr. Ross — who has worked on Middle East diplomacy for presidents of both parties — concludes that Ms. Rice’s “combative mind-set” worsened an already troubled relationship with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who feared that negotiations would leave Iran a threshold nuclear state.
Mr. Ross also reports that the administration divided on the question of whether to consider a military strike against Iran to stop it from obtaining nuclear weapons if all other means failed. Robert M. Gates, then the defense secretary, and Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “made it clear that we were in two wars in the region and that was quite enough,” Mr. Ross writes in “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship From Truman to Obama,” out next week.
Mr. Ross says that he along with Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state; James B. Steinberg, then her deputy secretary; and Thomas E. Donilon, Ms. Rice’s predecessor as national security adviser, “had a different view” and believed that “for coercive diplomacy to succeed” the Iranians “had to believe we would use force if diplomacy failed.”
Mr. Ross joined the administration as a senior adviser to Mrs. Clinton in early 2009 before moving that summer to the White House to advise Mr. Obama directly. He left at the end of 2011 and this year expressed concern about the terms of the deal Mr. Obama and other world leaders were negotiating with Iran, in which it agreed to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
In faulting Ms. Rice, Mr. Ross cites two examples in excerpts from his book posted by Politico Magazine on Thursday morning. He writes that she kept the Israelis in the dark about the actual state of play of the Iran negotiations and that she failed to follow up when a 2013 call from Mr. Obama left Mr. Netanyahu agitated.
“Had Tom Donilon still been the national security adviser, he surely would have understood that there was a problem, and he would have immediately spoken to his counterpart,” Mr. Ross writes. “By contrast,” he adds, “there was no call from Susan Rice.” Instead, he adds, Ms. Rice viewed Mr. Netanyahu’s posture as outrageous. “In her view, the Israeli leader did everything but ‘use the N-word in describing the president.’”
Taking issue with the book, Ned Price, a spokesman for Ms. Rice, said she continued to have a “close relationship” with her Israeli counterpart.
“We have long had differences with the Netanyahu government over the agreement to verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear — a deal achieved after Dennis Ross’s tenure in the administration,” Mr. Price said. “However, those differences have never lessened in any way our unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security.”
Mr. Netanyahu led a vigorous campaign to stop the deal with Iran, even coming to Washington to address a joint meeting of Congress to warn that such an agreement would not work and would endanger Israel. His relationship with Mr. Obama deteriorated into open hostility, although Mr. Netanyahu failed to rally enough support in Congress to overcome an Obama veto and block the accord.
Mr. Obama has invited Mr. Netanyahu to visit him at the White House next month in an effort to patch up relations and renew his offer of security guarantees to reassure Israel against a possible Iranian threat.
In the end, Mr. Ross concludes that the way the negotiations with Iran were handled “damaged our relationship with Israel far more than we needed to.”