Monday, May 07, 2007

# Posted 10:42 AM by Taylor Owen  

WHAT MIGHT CONDI DO?: Following the comments to my post about potential regional negotiations between the US, Iran and Syria on Iraq, I asked a friend, David Eaves (who moonlights as a negotiations consultant), how he might approach such talks.

Specifically, I asked: 'how would you run ME regional talks on Iraq using negotiation theory? Say US, Syria and Iran were willing to talk. What would the process be? What would be the base positions, what degree of flexibility would participants have to enter with etc.' Below is his great reply, also posted on his blog, here:
Back in the 1970’s Roger Fisher used a method called the one-text that helped create the document that became the basis for the 1978 Sinai Agreement between Israel and Egypt. The one-text process is a variation of mediation that is simple, but powerful. Clinton also proposed using the process in 2000 with the Israeli’s and Palestinians.

The one-text process feels appropriate because it works best in multi-party negotiations where trust is low. Iranian-Syrian-American relations have deteriorated to such an extent that any conversation is unlikely to be open, honest, or even civil. In short, they are unlikely to be productive. The basis for an agreement, and even just communicating, will be hard to establish. Think that diplomacy is above that? Then why did Bush feel the need to confirm that if Condi ran into her Iranian counterpart, she would be civil?

Indeed, this is the main issue: can the parties trust each other? There are enormous opportunities for joint gain… but the domestic risks for each of the actors are also enormous. This is the tragedy of the situation. Each actor (Syria, Iran and the US) is now hostage to the negative perceptions their domestic populations have of one another, negative perceptions their respective elites helped create, foster and nurture. How can Iran, America or Syria cut a deal with a country that have for 20 years been labeled as a mortal enemy? This would be, at best, politically problematic in the US and potentially destabilizing for the Syrian and Iranian governments.

Consequently any functional solution cannot threaten (in the short and medium term) the legitimacy of any of the actors domestic standing. This probably means that any negotiated solution will have to be discrete. The parties may come to agreement, but they cannot be seen coming to an agreement.

A back channel one-text thus becomes the obvious choice. The starting point being that all the parties recognize the opportunity cooperating presents, but also recognizing they can’t be seen working together. Of course, the other challenge is that this means there are huge risks for cooperating, but the costs of defection (particularly if the interest calculus shifts) are low. The negotiators would have to find a way to make the costs of defection feel relatively high versus the costs of cooperation. A one-text process that explores their interests may reveal such an outcome, but if I had an answer to that quandary offhand I’d probably be in an air conditioned room in Turkey right now, working with State Department officials.

Ironically, the main obstacle to using the one-text process would likely be a reluctance on the part of the United States to submit itself to a mediated process. I suspect that although the Americans feel it is a good enough process for everybody else, the world’s only superpower will never enter into mediation.

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(14) opinions -- Add your opinion

What might Condi do? Resign, if she had any self-respect or conscience. She won't, of course.
Taylor, which part of that answered "What would be the base positions, what degree of flexibility would participants have to enter with etc."? All I learned is that the Administration isn't civil to those nice gentlemen from the Iranian foreign office, the chief impediment to a negotiation is the US, and my own perceptions of Syria and Iran have nothing to do with state-sponsored terrorism, the annihilation of Hama, the brutalization of Lebanon, or the killing of my countrymen and kidnapping of my nation's allies, but are instead caused by an 'elite' in my country.

Here's a riddle for Mr David Eaves, negotiations consultant: I've never heard a member of the American elite speak a bad word about Canada. Without guidance from my betters, how was a prole such as myself able to form such a low opinion of Mr Eaves?
bgates, maybe engage with the text rather than spew slurs. I don't see how you came to any of the conclusions you seem to have stumbled on. Plus, your 'riddle' has nothing to do with david's argument.

I'd never heard of the One-Text process before, but I did a little searching and I think this link might provide better background.
Thanks anon, that is indeed a good overview. David actually used to work for the harvard neg. project.
Taylor, in your friend's discussion of Iran, Syria, and the United States, he faults America twice - because American diplomats are uncivil and America is likely the main obstacle to his desired process. The only criticism of Iran or Syria presents them as equivalent to the US, with all three countries spurred to mutual antagonism by their own elites. There is no hint that American hostility might be more justified than Iranian. In short, the only difference between the US and Iran is that in some respects the US is worse. If you don't agree with that kind of slander, feel free to apologize for it. The fact is that people can make up their own minds when presented with facts. America has done that with respect to Iran, just as I have with respect to David Eaves. No elite interference needed.

As for engaging with the text, I can't - there's nothing there besides celebrating process and blaming America. If you disagree with that, feel free to engage with my text to answer the question I posed in my comment, "What would be the base positions, what degree of flexibility would participants have to enter with etc.'" Or don't. Frankly, I've given up being interested in anything you have to say.
I'm just happy that there is at least some communication b/w the US and the ME. Iraq has been a failure and is going to continue to be one without open communication with the people who are directly affected. War and isolationism is not the solution for terror. If the US really wants to help in the ME, then it needs to start rebuilding efforts with world leaders.

If the original principle of why we are fighting this war is as important as Bush claims, the $340 billion already spent and the further $100+ billion to be spent should be redirected toward plans to fight poverty and develop the country to prevent another Afghanistan. According to the Borgen Project, just $19 billion annually can end starvation and $15 billion provides water and sanitation all over the world. If ending terror is the goal, the Millennium Development Goals to end poverty is the way to to go for our leaders.
lol...I don't know which of the previous two comments are more amusing...
Mr. Owen,

Mr. Gates is correct. Your friends piece drips with condescension and a barely disguised contempt. I don't think he would be invited to help the US State Department negotiate, not because he lacks ideas, but because there would be a serious question about what side he is on.
All this absurd speculation is just...silly. All the serious, high-minded analysis is utterly laughable.

As though the US is on a par with Syria and Iran. As though the Iranian and Syrian regimes really represent their people. As though American attempts to find a solution to murderous regimes is equivalent to attempts by those murderous regimes to take over their neighbors, squash any internal dissent, export terror on a global basis, threaten other countries with extinction, even while churning out fabrication upon fabrication upon fabrication.

But that continues to be the case with much of our educated elites.

The truth will eventually out. In the meantime, all this nonsensical gibberish gives the knitted-eyebrow, navel-gazing something productive to do: nourish resentment for the US (and its allies) and stabilize those murderous regimes, all under the guise of humane concern and the pursuit of what they understand to be peace.

Barry Meislin
I know what Bismarck would do:

Instigate military provocations by the Iraqi government that would force Iran to reply militarily, justifying a declaration of war by Iraq. The Iraqis would respond nationalistically and destroy the terrorists (Iranian agents all) in their midst.
Thanks to Anonymous for the link to a description of one-text. That may be the first actual contribution by an anonymous poster ever made.

bgates is obviously right that Mr. Eaves' message is undermined by his desire to place the most blame possible at the feet of the US, and an irrationally small amount at Syria and Iran. Some of his assumptions don't square with the facts--the Iranian people have a negative percetion of the US? Not from anything I've read. The Syrian people? Don't know and I doubt any of the three actors cares. etc.

However, it may be a rational position that assigning fault is counterproductive.

We have a goal in mind and if this process can help us acheive our goal, and finger pointing may interefere with the process, then it is counter-productive to worry about the sins of Syria and Iran except as it relates to fulfilling the terms of the resulting agreement.

One-text sounds like a promising approach and it has had successes in the past.
a promising approach

The premise is that there will be some basis for agreement.

Syria wants 1) continued control over Lebanon; 2) to keep a well-armed and primed Hizbullah to Israel's north to threaten Israel and to continue to paralyze the Lebanese government, which Hizbullah (i.e., Syria and Iran) intend to control, sooner or later; 3) Syria also claims to want the Golan Heights returned without having to sign a peace agreement (or at leats a non-aggression agreement) with Israel (but this last is just a card that Syria can pull out whenever it feels unduly pressured---since we can all understand Syria's poignant desire to regain lost lands, etc., etc.)

And no, Syria will not be flexible on any of the first two issues. (The third is a smokescreen.)

What was it you said the US should talk about with Syria?
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