Former ambassador Dennis Ross called on the Bush administration to initiate direct negotiations with the governments of Syria and Iran for a more peaceful Middle East during a Yale Political Union debate Tuesday evening in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall.
Ross — formerly a top foreign policy advisor to George H. W. Bush’s administration and special Middle East coordinator for President Clinton — said the government should depart from its “glacial diplomacy” by actively pursuing dialogue with countries that pose a threat to their neighbors and to the U.S. Many students at the debate — which was co-sponsored by the Yale International Relations Association and Yale Friends of Israel — said they enjoyed listening to Ross speak on international diplomacy, but some said they disagreed with his reasoning for pursuing direct negotiations.
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Sophie Brill ’07, the YPU director of campus relations, said that although Ross is not as well-known as some other speakers who visited the Union this fall, his speech was appropriate for the final debate of the semester because it focused on a specific policy area.
“This was a good opportunity to get people together to debate a topic pertinent to what is going on right now in the world,” Brill said.
This week, a bipartisan government commission began discussing a report by the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel appointed by Congress in March to study the situation in Iraq, which pressed the Bush administration to engage in talks with Iran and Syria as part of an “aggressive regional diplomatic initiative,” the New York Times reported Monday.
During his tenure in government, Ross helped broker several key international agreements, including the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Ross argued that the U.S. must negotiate with Syria in order to remove the country from Iran’s influence, stop the Islamist militant organization Hezbollah from transporting weapons across Syria’s borders and stymie the government’s close ties with the Palestinian political party Hamas — considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.
Ross criticized the Bush administration for acting “tough rhetorically but less tough practically” in the region. He said that although he is not fully confident that dialogue with Iran will ensure peace, he believes it is imperative to convince other countries to make a unified effort to engage the country to prevent the expansion of the country’s nuclear arms program.
“We would then live in a world that is far less predictable and vastly more dangerous,” he said.
In an interview with the News, Ross said he hopes Yale students understand that eagerness to negotiate should not be equated with concession to other countries.
“I hope students can take away from this that the essence of negotiation is to wield leverage,” he said. “Negotiation does not necessarily show any weakness.”
While several students said they agreed with Ross’s arguments, others said they felt Ross did not offer a unique perspective on relations with the Middle East.
YIRA President Kostya Lantsman ’07 said he thought Ross’s speech was coherent and well-argued, especially his argument that willingness to negotiate does not imply lack of power.
“He comes from a wealth of experience in region and negotiations in general which gave him a lot of unique insights,” Lantsman said.
But Carmen Lee ’09, a member of the Independent Party, said she found the speech “very boring.”
“I appreciated his knowledge, but it felt like ‘Diplomacy 101,’” she said. “I do not think he had anything new to say about diplomacy and negotiation.”
The debate marked the last of a series of notably high-profile speakers at Union debates this semester, members said. This year’s YPU keynote speakers have included Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, civil liberties activist Rev. Al Sharpton, former Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis and author William F. Buckley Jr. ’50.
“We have made more efforts to invite people who most of the student body would be excited to see,” YPU President Roger Low ’07 said.
Ambassador Ross was a key architect of the 2000 summit between former prime minister of Israel Ehud Barak and now-deceased leader of Palestine Yasser Arafat, and he authored the book “The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace.”
Ross had not spoken formally at Yale since he came ten years ago to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.