Christopher R. Hill, former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, was US Ambassador to Iraq, South Korea, Macedonia, and Poland, a US special envoy for Kosovo, a negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords, and the chief US negotiator with North Korea from 2005-2009. He is Chief Adviser to the Chancellor for Global Engagement and Professor of the Practice in Diplomacy at the University of Denver, and the author of Outpost: A Diplomat at Work.
DENVER – A senior Russian diplomat, in contrasting North Korea and Iran, once said to me: “The North Koreans are like neighborhood children with matches. The Iranians are who we really need to worry about.”
Whether the talks between the “P5 + 1” (the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany) and Iran, which concluded in Istanbul on April 14 and are due to resume in Baghdad on May 23, have any chance of succeeding remains highly uncertain. The smart money is most likely being wagered on failure. But those of little faith need to understand a basic, but sometimes-elusive point about such negotiations: they are conducted for two purposes.
The first purpose is, of course, to persuade the country in question to come around to others’ views. But negotiation must also demonstrate that everything that could be done has in fact been done before further steps – especially the highly risky and fraught decision to take military action – are considered. Military measures require broad international acceptance, and that condition can be met only in a context of good-faith efforts at diplomacy.
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