Veteran White House Middle East troubleshooter Dennis Ross to step down

Obama's top Iran and Middle East strategist Dennis Ross will step down next month, he and the White House said Friday.

Ross, 62, a Middle East peace process veteran who has worked the exceptionally challenging issues for the Obama White House of U.S. policy to Israel, Iran and the wider Middle East amid the recent Arab spring uprisings, will return to his position at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, and to book-writing.

His departure comes amid a protracted impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as well as growing international concern over both Iran's nuclear program and possible Israeli military action against it.

The United Nations atomic watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported this week that some intelligence obtained from member states suggests Iran has pursued research on nuclear warheads. Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is only for peaceful energy purposes.

But Ross said Friday he had promised his wife when he took the job he would only serve two years and had gone on to serve three.

He leaves the job "with mixed feelings," Ross said in a written statement issued by the White House press secretary Friday. "It has been an honor to work in the Obama administration and to serve this president, particularly during a period of unprecedented change in the broader Middle East. Obviously there is still work to do, but I promised my wife I would return to government for only two years and we both agreed it is time to act on my promise."

Ross "has an extraordinary record of public service and has been a critical member of the President's team for nearly three years," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in the statement. His efforts had helped "deepen our security relationship with Israel while pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Washington Middle East hands said the Ross's Iran portfolio for now would be worked by White House counter-proliferation czar Gary Samore and National Security Council senior director for the Persian Gulf region Puneet Talwar, as well as National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. But no one really has the depth of relationships to work the diplomatically sensitive seams of American-Israel-Iran policy as Ross, they said.

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