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Ross to State; Hill Amb. to Iraq

From NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Libby Leist
Despite some delays -- and considerable debate in the media over his area of responsibility --  longtime Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross will be coming back to the State Department as a "strategic advisor" on the near east and gulf region. 

Translation: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the other Gulf states.

He will not be described as an envoy negotiating agreements and will not be involved in Middle East talks. That job will be up to former Sen. George Mitchell, who returns tonight from his first "listening tour" of the region. Pointedly, Mitchell began his tour in Cairo to assess Arab sentiment -- and no U.S. diplomacy is expected to get very far before Israeli elections next week produce a new Prime Minister on Feb. 10th.

Hill to be ambassador to Iraq
NBC News confirms a Reuters report that veteran diplomat Christopher Hill will be the new ambassador to Iraq.
 
Most recently, Hill was assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs -- point man for the complicated six-party negotiations with North Korea.  

In past administrations, he was a key member of Amb. Richard Holbrooke's negotiating team on the Dayton accords that resolved the Bosnia crisis.

He's replacing another veteran foreign service officer, Ryan Crocker, who is retiring.