WASHINGTON (JTA) – Dennis Ross, the top Obama administration Middle East strategist, is leaving the White House to rejoin the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The White House on Thursday confirmed reports that Ross was set to leave by the end of the year.
"Dennis 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 spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. "He has served as special assistant to the President and senior director for the Central Region at an historic time in the Middle East and North Africa, and has played a critical role in our efforts to apply unprecedented pressure on the Iranian government, support democratic transitions in the region, and deepen our security relationship with Israel while pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace."
Both Ross and the White House cited his desire to spend more time with his family as the reason.
"When Dennis originally joined the Administration, he made it clear that given commitments to his family, he would remain for only two years," Carney said. "In light of the developments in the broader Middle East, the President appreciates his extending that by nearly a year and looks forward to being able to draw on his council periodically going forward."
Ross, in his own statement, said his return to "private life" came with mixed feelings.
"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," he said.
The announcements were followed up later Thursday by one from the Washington Institute reporting his return to the think tank he had directed in the mid-2000s.
"At the Institute, Ambassador Ross will research, write, and lecture on a broad array of critical issues, including U.S.-Israel relations, the Arab-Israeli peace process, and U.S. policy toward Iran," the institute’s statement said.
Ross leaves with a mixed record in the two areas where he was most focused, Iran’s nuclear program and advancing Israeli-Arab peace.
Israeli-Palestinian peace is at a stand-still, if not sliding backwards with the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition and the absence of peace talks. However, during Ross’ tenure, the Obama administration has persuaded reluctant nations to sign onto enhanced Iran sanctions.
In a statement, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised Ross’ service.
"We appreciate Ambassador Dennis Ross’s devoted service to the American people," AIPAC said. "In his tireless pursuit of Middle East peace, Ambassador Ross has maintained a deep understanding of the strategic value of the U.S.-Israel relationship and has worked vigorously to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."