In late 2008 and early 2009, CNAPI tried to be the determining force in shaping US policy towards Iran. As President Obama was shaping his administration, there were reports that Dennis Ross would be selected by President to be the “Iran envoy” at the State Department, a choice that might undermine CNAPI’s agenda. NIAC took the leadership to block this nomination. The “anti-Ross campaign” was launched to discredit him and eventually pave the road for the nomination of a new diplomat with more friendly views toward Iran.
On January 7, 2009 that is before Obama entered the White House, Patrick Disney (a NIAC employee) who coordinates CNAPI lobby emailed to his partners and wrote:
“As the rumors appear to be more substantiated by the hour, I think we should start a conversation about what our response will be if Dennis Ross is named Iran envoy… NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we're exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross.”
A few hours later, Parsi entered the discussion and wrote:
“Just to add to Patrick's points: Coming out strongly against him will likely also make it more difficult for him to go the neo-con way. The pressure should be on him. He is so obviously conflicting with Obama's views so we could make that very clear - criticize him, without criticizing Obama. Also, by being on record now, we protect ourselves for the time when Ross does screw up - then our criticism will be consistent with what we've said all along, and will be able to defend ourselves against any attacks that our views on Ross may resemble Tehran's.”
Two days later, Disney recapped the partners' conference call on how to block Ross’s nomination and wrote:
“It’s not necessary that we all act with one voice on this--in fact it may be more useful to have a “division of labor.” Those groups that feel comfortable being more aggressive in opposing Ross publicly (possibly Voters for Peace, FCNL, Physicians for Social Responsibility, others) will do so, while others who may have less latitude on the matter will declare their preference for a more agreeable envoy (Dobbins or Pickering).”
Strategy: Create a media controversy. Press releases, op-eds, letters to the editor, blog posts, articles, etc. should be distributed to make this a very public controversy. Reach out to media contacts. Also explore option of submitting questions for confirmation hearings. (Clinton: 1/13 and 1/15. Susan Rice possibly 1/16).”
On January 21, Disney reported:
“Rumors abound that George Mitchell might be MidEast envoy instead of Ross. Still no official word that there even will be an envoy to Iran, but this is encouraging. Ross has become a controversial pick--we should continue this line of discussion and sow the seeds of doubt in Ross’ appointment for Iran envoy”.
On January 23, he reiterated his demand to maintain the anti-Ross campaign:
“I think it’s important that we not let up on our campaign to raise concerns about Ross serving in any capacity involving Iran in the Obama administration. There is still time to prevent his appointment.”
Finally, Ross was not appointed as Iran envoy and was given a low profile job at the State Department before joining Obama in the White House. Meanwhile, few months later, another man took office as the senior Iran official at the State Department. He is John Limbert, who till then served on advisory board of NIAC, the same organization that orchestrated the anti-Ross campaign.
Additional CNAPI communications regarding the lobby to prevent the nomination of Denis Ross: