A Hill of problems

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A Hill of problems

The top U.S. nuclear negotiator, Christopher Hill has expressed confidence that people will appreciate how well the talks in Singapore proceeded. Days later, his bosses undermined him.
U.S. President George Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed strong discontent about the negotiations undertaken by Hill. His superiors might even reject his work, even though he has been in charge of U.S. negotiations concerning North Korea’s nuclear programs for years.
The discord is supposed to stem from the issue of inspecting North Korea’s nuclear programs. The U.S. government made it a principle that an inspection of North Korea’s suspected uranium-enrichment and proliferation programs must be included in any agreement reached in Singapore.
But Hill is said to have neglected this principle.
Even Secretary Rice, who has been very supportive of Hill, said the talks in Singapore haven’t produced a breakthrough. Rice’s views differ sharply from Hill’s, highlighting the seriousness of the matter.
It is hard to understand why Hill made this judgment call. He is usually a highly skilled negotiator. He could have adopted a more flexible stance for the ultimate goal of the talks –– ending North Korea’s nuclear programs. Or he could have made remarks that would please North Korea, if needed.
Despite his years spent in contact with North Korea, his actions sometimes suggest the opposite. Last year, when negotiating the end to financial sanctions against Banco Delta Asia, Hill said impatiently that the matter would be resolved within 30 days. North Korea replied by exaggerating that the United States had promised to lift the sanctions fully, causing confusion at the negotiation table.
Following the incident in Singapore, people are suspicious that Hill was too anxious to reach an agreement.
Diplomats in charge of negotiations with other countries may become overeager to get results.
Success is likely to win the negotiators glowing reputations, even if the agreement reached doesn’t resolve the problems.
During a summit meeting between Korea and the United States in 2006, the former South Korean foreign minister, who was Hill’s partner, was denounced for announcing a policy to which the United States hadn’t agreed.
Clearly, negotiators can produce workable agreements only when they renounce any aspirations for fame and reward.
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