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U.S. Middle East negotiator announces plans to resign


In this story:

Speculation that current crisis influenced comments

'A peace junkie'


WASHINGTON (CNN) - The U.S. State Department on Tuesday assessed the possible impact of the news that President Clinton's chief Middle East negotiator will resign in January.

On Monday night, Dennis Ross said he was leaving his post to spend more time with his family. His comments came during a question-and-answer session after an address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. Ross said he would leave the job when the new president takes office.

While Ross' colleagues at the State Department were surprised by his public comments, they said he has been talking about leaving "for some time."


"He spoke to his reality," said one official close to Ross. "He is close to having had it in terms of the impact it has had on his family. And when asked point blank like that, he wanted to put out what his thinking was and said what was in his heart."

Saying what is on his mind is not a regular occurrence for Ross. He is typically known for his measured comments to the media, which say little about the "substance" of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Speculation that current crisis influenced comments

Some officials speculated that Ross' comments were made during a moment of pessimism because of the recent wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. In his speech Monday, he called the crisis "disheartening."

"Given the violence in the region, the fact that he was so personally involved and feels a bit hopeless, I am sure is one element," said another official close to Ross.

"It would be different if we were on the verge," said another. "But he is starting to see it is not in the cards. And his family has made numerous sacrifices."

Before joining the Bush administration in 1991 as a senior adviser to then-Secretary of State George Baker, Ross was the chief foreign policy adviser to George Bush's campaign in 1988. He has served in various Pentagon and National Security Council posts under Presidents Carter and Reagan.

His colleagues said he repeatedly worked the phones all hours of the night, and would often show up to his State Department office over the weekend.

Ross also traveled frequently to the region to meet with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. In September, he turned a family vacation to the Middle East into an opportunity to visit the parties.

'A peace junkie'

But some who know Ross well called him, who has been involved in Middle East peace affairs for 12 years, a "peace junkie" -- and predicted he could be coaxed to stay.

Ross emphasized Monday that U.S. efforts would continue toward achieving peace between the Israelis and Palestinians -- a goal he said he thought was obtainable.

But the U.S. involvement in the peace process is so closely associated with Ross, who has built up a close relationship with both sides' negotiators, that some analysts question whether another Middle East negotiator will enjoy the same trust as their predecessor.

One senior official said that while Ross' role in the Middle East peace process has been "crucial," it is really "up to what the Israelis and the Palestinians do."

"The Israelis and Palestinians have to relate to each other at the end of the day," said the senior official. "And they have shown at Camp David they are able to do that."

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