[FOUNTAIN]Lessons from the North

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[FOUNTAIN]Lessons from the North

North Korea has an established reputation for its negotiation skills. Brinksmanship is one of Pyongyang’s signature tactics. It often elevates tension to the maximum, then gives an ultimatum. Another favorite of North Korea is the salami tactic. The name comes from the thinly sliced Italian sausage and refers to the style of breaking down an agenda into small pieces, then taking slice by slice until they have the whole salami.
And North Korean negotiators are also known for their eloquence, quoting various adages, and they all seem to have the guts to walk out of the meeting anytime.
Even the veteran South Korean counterparts are weary of dealing with them. So it is only natural that Washington officials, who made their first contact with high-ranking North Korean officials in 1992, are disgusted by the tactics.
It is no coincidence that Korea watchers in the United States are studying the negotiation tactics of North Korea.
Mitchell B. Reiss, former director of policy planning at the Department of State, is one of them. In January 2003, he proposed nine lessons in negotiating with North Korea. The essay came immediately after North Korea’s nuclear project emerged, just when Washington’s policy needed direction.
Lesson #1: Be humble. We have a hard time understanding how this insignificant third-world backwater, the last outpost of the Cold War, can consistently thwart the will of the world’s single superpower.
Lesson #2: You can do business with North Korea.
Lesson #3: But it is never easy. The North Koreans are very experienced, very patient negotiators.
Lesson #4: Distrust and verify.
Lesson #5: In certain situations, Washington’s discussions with North Korea can provide useful political cover for South Korea and Japan to engage with North Korea.
Lesson # 6: The range of issues requires senior level officials with broad authority.
Lesson # 7: We need to treat North Korea as it is, not as we would like it to be.
Lesson #8: The United States must always act in concert with close allies such as South Korea and Japan.
Lesson #9: If you do not have a policy toward North Korea, North Korea will determine your policy for you.
The six-party talks are at a crossroads. The nine lessons might be the voice of moderates.
Let me add Lesson #10. Without a hidden contact, you will never succeed. The Libya situation was resolved through backdoor negotiations.


by Oh Young-hwan

The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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