Prepping to Negotiate with North Korea



What advice would @mickeybergman, one of the people responsible for negotiating with the DPRK to release Otto Warmbier, give to President Trump ahead of his tete-a-tete with Kim Jung-Un?

In an interview with FP’s Sarah Wildman, print editor, and Dan De Luce, chief foreign policy correspondent, Bergman explores his experiences with non-state actor diplomacy in the grey area between states and individual actors.  And based on his past experience working with North Korean interlocutors, he explores strategies that would be important for any negotiation with North Korea.

For example, Bergman observes that the Koreans make three fundamental assumptions going into a negotiation:

  1. The world is out to get us. (Consider regional history from Japan, China, South Korea, as well as the U.S.)
  2. We are surrounded by giants. (China, Russia, and the U.S.)
  3. We need an asymmetric three to maintain our way of life (nuclear weapons)

In PostWorld this week, he writes that one tactic to expect from the North Koreans is a feint that could shut down negotiations:

In the 1990s, when one of us, then-congressman Richardson, was an unofficial envoy, his U.S. delegation extended an offer of food aid to North Korea during one break in arms-control discussions as a gesture meant to encourage their counterparts to return to the talks. The North Koreans publicly rejected the aid, insisting that they didn’t need it, but then quietly accepted it, nonetheless. For show, they briefly reopened negotiations, but they weren’t serious. Nothing happened, and they blamed us for the impasse. A typical North Korean dodge.

via WaPo, Kim Jong Un won’t give up his nukes. Trump should meet with him, anyway.

Discussions could take much longer than just a one meet up between two highly visible heads of state:

In 2016, negotiating on behalf of Otto Warmbier’s family in Pyongyang, the other one of us, Mr. Bergman, received a flat “no” from the North Koreans on a proposal to bring Otto home during the official portion of a meeting. Minutes later, during an unofficial conversation, one of his counterparts casually commented: “There is a saying in my country: it takes 100 hacks to take down a tree.” The North Koreans negotiate with patience and deliberation, something Trump must take into account.

How will Trump do, the self-described master negotiator? We’ll have to wait and see–and hope for the best.


Brett H. McGurk, Iran Dealmaker

What are the necessary skills of a special envoy? How about one who helped to negotiate the historic Iran nuclear deal?  On close inspection, Brett H. McGurk worked for Republicans and Democrats, was educated as a lawyer, and had a bruising public failure when nominated to serve as ambassador to Baghdad:

“He’s a doer, who is nonideological, pragmatic, which very much meshes with the president’s approach,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser. “Over the years, the president has come to trust Brett’s judgment on things.” …

“He had that combination of knowledge and passion, and then a prodigious work ethic,” said Peter D. Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University who worked with Mr. McGurk in the Bush administration. “This is also why an N.S.C. staffer tends to burn out.”“What is impressive about Brett is not just what he has done,” Mr. Feaver added, “but how long he has done it.”

Source: Iran Negotiations Add to Special Envoy’s Reputation as ‘a Doer’ – The New York Times

A Walk in the Woods: A Lesson on Informal Negotiations

A few years ago when the New START Treaty was initially underway, a play was staged in an encore performance on the Hill.  This story that explores the heart of a successful negotiation during a time of Cold War tensions is apropos for our current milieu.

The Pulitzer, Tony, and Olivier award-Winning 1988 play, “A Walk in the Woods” by Less Blessing, tells the story of an accidental negotiation on a medium-range nuclear arms agreement by the US representative Paul Nitze and USSR diplomat Yuli Kvitsinsky. In 2010 it was re-staged at the American Ensemble Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Is the book better than the movie, er, the transcript better than the play? This lengthy interview explains:

At the time of your famous “walk in the woods,” the negotiations on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) in Europe had stalled. At the time, many people around the world, especially in Europe, believed that the U.S. wasn’t really interested in negotiating an arms control agreement with the Soviets. Source: Paul Nitze Interview — Academy of Achievement

Nitze, the namesake of Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, was also involved in the 1986 arms summit in Reykjavik. He was perceived as an intellectual leader of the hawks by Democrats and seen by others in the Reagan administration as too much of a dove.

A BYU Kennedy Center reading of Richard Rhodes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play Reykjavik is scheduled tonight on campus in Provo as part of our International Education Week 2015 celebration.


Critics on the Deal with Iran (Munich, redux?)

Is the newly-inked deal in Geneva a “historic mistake” as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu states or a “good deal” as Barak Ravid writes in Haaretz?  A thoughtful contrarian, Michael Rubin, makes the case that diplomacy with Iran creates a dangerous precedent:

He should not be so certain. Rather than prevent Iran’s nuclear breakout, historians may mark the Geneva deal as the step that most legitimized Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability.

Willing to deal is not synonymous with sincere desire to reach a comprehensive settlement. Key to successful reconciliation is truth, and there are many reasons to doubt Iranian intentions, none of which did the Geneva negotiators address. Iranian authorities say they seek nuclear technology to ensure domestic energy security, but as the Bipartisan Policy Center showed, Tehran could achieve that aim for a fraction of the cost and for decades, if not centuries, longer if it chose to invest instead in its pipeline and refinery infrastructure.

via Iran deal risks creating another North Korea – Global Public Square – Blogs.

Israel makes an interesting bellwether on the issue. They are stuck in an unenviable position with several facets.

Easing economic sanctions against Iran, Israel argues, will only remove the pressure that brought Tehran to the table in the first place. Yet Israel — as well as the United States — sees initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy as a critical companion to the political and security discussions.

Do these alternate approaches to parallel issues that are crucial to Israel’s future amount to hopeless hypocrisy? Or are they simply a sign of the profound differences in the way Israel views the two problems and its starkly different role in the two sets of talks?

“Looking at how Bibi views these negotiations tells you a great deal about how he’s seeing the world,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, using the nickname of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “Bibi’s self-image first and foremost is shaped by wanting to lead Israel out of the shadow of the Iranian bomb. His image is not driven by being the peacemaker, creating two states and dividing Jerusalem.”

“Both offer pathways that are incredibly problematic for him,” Mr. Miller added. “It’s like the rest of the world is playing checkers and he is forced to play three-dimensional chess.

via Israelis See Ticking Clock...

But even before we consider strategic considerations on Israeli national issues, this is a tectonic change in geopolitical regional alliances between both Israel and Saudi Arabia and the US.  In the end, as Roger Cohen writes, the outcome is not clear:

Diplomacy involves compromise; risk is inherent to it. Iran is to be tested. Nobody can know the outcome. Things may unravel but at least there is hope. Perhaps this is what is most threatening to Netanyahu. He has never been willing to test the Palestinians in a serious way — test their good faith, test ending the humiliations of the occupation, test from strength the power of justice and peace. He has preferred domination, preferred the Palestinians down and under pressure.

On a different front, Dan Drezner weighs in on WSJ Bret Stephens and other conservatives who go berserk over the Munich analogy. Quoting a takedown from Reason magazine that sees the comparison of the Geneva diplomatic deal to Munich as “a crude, ahistorical gimmick to escalate military confrontation.”

The good professor has a few wise words for future would-be foreign policy pundits–invoking possibly shaky historical analogies:

See, there’s a curious but understandable asymmetry in foreign affairs punditry. Warning about an apocalypse that does not happen doesn’t exact that much of a toll on a pundit’s reputation. After all, it’s the job of the pundit to warn about the dangers of world politics, to pore over the downside risks of every region, to spin tales of looming disaster in the air. That’s perceived as prudence by readers. And if the predicted end of the world doesn’t happen? Well, that’s likely because the pundit’s loud warnings prompted preventive action (or so they will tell themselves as they drift off to sleep). Via

Kennedy’s Diplomacy & Legacy at 50 Years

Kennedy's Legacy of Inspiration -

On the 50th commemoration of his tragic and conspiracy-inviting assassination–a “Homeric myth”-inspiring tale according to historian Robert Caro— does JFK deserve the accolades for accomplishing important things in his short presidency?

Others note that Kennedy had other achievements. Robert Dallek makes the case that Kennedy’s greatest contribution was his negotiations that averted a global thermonuclear war:

Most notably, he saved the world from a nuclear war with his astute diplomacy during the October 1962 confrontation with the Soviet Union over Cuba. As he privately said at the time, the military leadership wanted to bomb and invade, but no one alive then would survive to tell them they were wrong.

And while critics focus on the minutiae of those 13 days, Kennedy’s real success was what came after.

via Kennedy’s Legacy of Inspiration –

The young president waxed idealistic–a charge some say created unrealistic expectations not only for future successors but for the body politic. But even if this is true, he certainly scores points for inspiring oratory:

“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war, not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace — the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living — and the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace in all time,” Kennedy said with the Cuban Missile Crisis behind him, the nuclear threat of the Cold War still casting a shadow on the geo-political landscape and the fateful intervention in Vietnam looming on the horizon.

That speech captured the heart and soul of Kennedy as well as any other, a speech about what he called “a more practical, more attainable peace.” It was a new approach to the world and solving its problems, and one that would greatly inform this moment in American history.

via GlobalPost – Hearing JFK’s message of peace in John Kerry’s diplomacy

This, from the president who said: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”  Diplomacy may not always work–but it is a far better alternative to open conflict, even if it must be leveraged with hard power and coercion to be effective.

French Muscle, American Cheese –

All smiles: US Sec State Kerry, EU fp chief Catherine Ashton, and Iranian FM Zarif

Isn’t France “America’s favorite–and sometimes only–shooting buddy” as Yochi Dreasen observed last August?  Then why the diplomatic friction of late? (And even French Travel Advisories are causing a problem.) Details on why the French objected to several loopholes within the US-led negotiations with Iran in Geneva are highlighted here:

Their concerns focused on three areas: The heavy-water plant at Arak that the Iranians are building, where the outline agreement seemed to allow continued construction; language that appeared to concede prematurely an Iranian “right to enrich” or something close to it; and what measures exactly Iran would take to dispose of its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium. Much of the Geneva meeting focused on the French determination to close these loopholes — only for the changes to prove unacceptable to Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, and his team.

Keep in mind the larger context–that just a few years ago the tables were turned:

French-American relations, often a study in how close love can be to hatred, have taken an interesting turn of late. The cheese-eating surrender monkeys of France, in the phrase from “The Simpsons,” have become the world’s meat-chomping enforcement tigers. As for the United States, it has, in the French view, gone a touch camembert-soft.

via French Muscle, American Cheese –

And as Phillip Carter notes, the US tends to foot the bill for French and NATO lack of investment in global force projection–as seen most recently in the French peradventures in Mali.

In Defense of Talk

The former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, Ryan Crocker, describes terms for successful negotiations with Iran, namely:

  • Progress requires direct talks
  • Substance of the talks must be “closely held”
  • US should introduce “other issues beyond the nuclear file”
  • Be clear that the US doesn’t seek regime change

via Talk to Iran, It Works,

His recommendations seem to be working–at least for now–with Sec State Kerry joining in the fun.