Tougher sanctions for Iran, willingness to negotiate key to peace process, diplomat said

Despite rising tensions worldwide, there is no issue more important today than the Middle East conflict, said a counselor with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.Ambassador Dennis Ross, counselor for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has worked as a State Department specialist under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton and spoke about Middle East affairs Tuesday night to a crowd of about 400 in Ed Landreth Hall as part of the ninth annual Gates of Chai Lectureship in Contemporary Judaism.

The Gates of Chai Lectureship is sponsored by the Program in Jewish Studies at TCU and Brite Divinity School.

“Now is the time we have to take on Israeli-Palestinian issues and solve them,” Ross said.

Ross outlined three possible ways to resolve the situation which included a precisely-defined cease-fire agreement, a referendum of the Palestinian people that supports a two-state government without including Hamas, and for international communities to stop supporting Hezbollah.

In order to convince Iran to quit nuclear development, Ross said the international community must demonstrate strong sanctions against the Iranian government and its people.

“Incentives come after you convince them of the price,” Ross said. “I strongly believe you cannot just show them the reward.”

Luda Chuba, a senior international relations and history major, said Ross was fascinating and knowledgeable with his 24 years of experience.

“He knows the region and is a valuable resource,” Chuba said.

Chad Pendarves, a senior political science major, said one of the most interesting ideas Ross expressed was that governments must be willing to negotiate in order to facilitate peace.

“The phrase ‘War on Terror’ is a misnomer,” Ross said. “Terror is a tool, not an ideology. The war is with radical Islam, and it just so happens to be principally fought in the Middle East.”

Ross said there is a misconception that the world is safer now than it was before 9/11.

“This is going to be a generational struggle,” he said. “We may be better equipped to handle certain aspects of terrorism now than we were before, but we can’t say that another 9/11 can’t happen again – and if it does, we shouldn’t be surprised.”

Ross was trained as a Middle East and Soviet Union specialist, and worked under both President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan as a foreign correspondent. He said there are still issues in the former Soviet Union that need to be resolved before they add to the conflict in the Middle East.

“There are still about 44,000 nuclear and other weapons unsecured in the Soviet Union,” Ross said. “We should be doing more about that, as well. The nature of the Middle East threat has changed – it’s more global now.”

Ross said North Korea is only a major concern because of its ties to Middle Eastern countries. The possibility of Iran buying nuclear weapons from North Korea is worrisome, he said.

Ross said it is doubtful the conflict will be resolved any time soon.

“You can’t make peace unless you understand where you are, and we’re not headed in a very good direction right now,” he said.

Ross said any exit strategy for Iraq is going to be problematic because the country is in a civil war. If the United States were to pull out now, he said every country surrounding Iraq would be pulled into the conflict, creating a much bigger problem than the one now.

“Almost every Iraqi wants us to leave, but almost every Iraqi is afraid for us to leave,” he said. “It’s a catch-22.