Negotiation is art, not science. In the 1980s, while I was assigned as a diplomat in the Yemen Arab Republic, a lawyer friend called to say he was coming for a visit. We were elated, as we didn’t get many visitors in Yemen. We met him at the airport and our first question was “Why are you in Yemen?” He replied he had just finished a week in neighboring Saudi Arabia, trying to “hustle some money.” He realized they were smart, experienced and ahead of his game.
The Saud family, in power for many years, plays a long game and has deep pockets. There are a lot of players like that in the world. The Communist Party in Russia has ruled for a century. One family has ruled Morocco for more than 100 years. One family has ruled North Korea for more than 30 years. The Communist Party has ruled China since 1949. These nations are not democracies with periodic, legitimate elections. They all play long games.
Our president met three times with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. He postponed joint military exercises with South Korea in hopes Kim would drop his nuclear missile program. Kim conducted more missile tests. President Trump claims a “beautiful” relationship with Kim, who had his most trusted adviser, a family member, shot out of a cannon, not as a circus act, but as an execution. It is nearly certain Kim ordered the assassination of his half-brother in Singapore. Kim threatened us with a “special Christmas event.” “No Deal” here for President Trump. As 2020 elections draw nearer, will Trump give concessions to Supreme Leader Kim to gain more meaningless promises from Kim? It is not helpful that China has called on the U.S. to come to agreement with North Korea.
China is the most experienced long game player. Our president has been conducting a trade war with China, tweeting threats and promises. America’s farmers lost markets for corn and soybeans in China this year. China purchased what they needed from Brazil, China, Russia and other countries. Half of China’s hogs died from swine fever, yet they have not yet imported our surplus hogs. China knows Trump will be motivated to get ag exports moving in 2020 to enhance his re-election prospects. China is not in a hurry to make any important concessions. China hopes to get by cheaply. Once again, “No Deal.”
In the Syria conflict, Russia gained the naval base (Tartus) they have long sought in the Middle East. The bloody Assad regime, now in its second generation, has been bolstered. Our Kurdish allies are being abandoned. Trump raises no objection to more than three years of bombing of the people of Yemen by Saudi Arabia, nor to the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi embassy by Saudi government employees. “No Deal” here.
How do we move towards peace and justice in international relations? It starts with low-level discussions, with mutual understanding of positions being held. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached between China, the European Union, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States was negotiated over more than two years. The main protagonists, Iran and the United States, have had decades of bad relations. The U.S. helped overthrow a legitimate government and installed the Shah in the 1950s. Iran seized the U.S. embassy and held 52 hostages for 444 days in 1979. Iran Air Flight 655, a passenger flight from Tehran to Dubai, was shot down in 1988 by a missile fired from USS Vincennes of the U.S. Navy, with 290 dead. Iran supports military actions in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
The JCPA gave parties 10 years to restructure relationships. Think about getting an agreement between China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, Iran and the U.S. about anything. The JCPA was a major step toward a peaceful Middle East. No party was a big winner. President Trump walked away from this agreement that halted, for 10 years, Iran’s nuclear weapon development. The deal is undone. Tweets and threats are no substitute for diplomacy and negotiations as we seek peace and justice.
David Fredrick of Waverly is a retired diplomat and college employee.