How to Negotiate with North Korea

When handling an important negotiation, the parties must take it seriously and be prepared. This approach is a must whether you’re negotiating a small business deal or about to engage in diplomatic negotiations. As I’ve previously discussed on LI News Radio 103.9 with Jay Oliver, the United States needs to carefully handle its sit-down with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and determine a roadmap for the negotiation beforehand. Here’s a great preparation checklist from the Wall Street Journal.

10 Tips for Negotiating with Kim Jong Un
By Robert B. Zoellick
The Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2018
https://www.wsj.com/articles/10-tips-for-negotiating-with-kim-jong-un-1522189919

The news that President Trump plans to sit down with Kim Jong Un offers a perfect example of his style: Mr. Trump surprised his world-wide audience, put himself at the center of attention, and took a big risk, probably impulsively. Now the drama has shifted to whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim will actually meet. And if so, when and where?

Haphazard diplomacy with North Korea presents a real danger, so someone around Mr. Trump had better be preparing for a complex negotiation. Here are 10 steps to get started:

  1. Identify the outcome Mr. Trump wants to achieve.That may seem simple, but consider the range of possibilities. The U.S. could seek progress toward the peaceful unification of a free Korea. Or it could accept the North Korean regime’s existence if Pyongyang gives up nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, plus long-range missiles, while promising not to sell its technology. Mr. Trump could focus on North Korea’s threats or behavior—whether toward the U.S., South Korea, the region or the North Korean people. The U.S. could demand that North Korea return people it has abducted from other countries, especially Japan. The bargaining will take sharp twists and turns. Mr. Trump needs to know how he will frame America’s initial demands and what he wants to achieve over different time frames.
  1. Assess, coldly and rationally, America’s actual leverage.What pressures and inducements can be brought to bear by the U.S., its allies, China and Russia? Mr. Trump will have to coordinate this leverage, which means the White House must be prepared for varying scenarios. Given the experience of past talks with North Korea, expect extraordinary demands, breakdowns, walkouts and reversals of positions. Getting China and Russia to go along will require Mr. Trump to consider trade-offs.
  1. Bolster U.S. relations with South Korea and Japan.These two allies can help the White House achieve a successful negotiation—or deal with failure. (They are also the cornerstone of future U.S. policy toward China.) That means America must win and hold public support in both countries. Threatening to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea and diminish American trade can hardly help.
  1. Decide on the negotiating process.The U.S. could negotiate directly with North Korea. Or it could add South Korea, which would give America’s ally standing and reduce the risk of a split in the alliance. Or the U.S. could revive the six-party talks—including Japan, China and Russia—from previous negotiations. Mr. Trump must decide whether his secretary of state should lead or whether he wants to rely principally on officials a step below. The White House should know whether it wants to use a step-by-step process to turn paper negotiations into realities on the ground. The U.S. should look for ways to make North Korean reversals impossible, or at least difficult and costly.
  1. Engage Congress.At a minimum, Mr. Trump needs lawmakers’ support as he embarks on this negotiation. He may even need their votes to approve a treaty or allocate funding.
  1. Consider what Mr. Kim may want. The North Korean ruler will get an early bonus just by meeting as an equal with Mr. Trump, which legitimates Mr. Kim’s rule. North Korea will claim it is negotiating in good faith and therefore the U.S. and its allies should ease sanctions, offer piecemeal concessions, and hold off stronger measures. It will present itself as standing for Korean nationalism and South Korea’s leaders as Yankee lackeys. Mr. Kim could reach for unification on Pyongyang’s terms. He could demand a peace treaty to conclude the Korean War and an end to America’s alliance with Seoul. The U.S. should expect, at a minimum, that Mr. Kim will want to keep his nuclear weapons and missiles to deter any threat to his regime.
  1. Decide what the U.S. is—and isn’t—willing to trade.Demands are just the start. Pyongyang may press Mr. Trump to concede security guarantees, economic openings, or even assistance from Seoul or others. On the other hand, the U.S. needs to decide whether its alliance with South Korea and the U.S. forces stationed there are nonnegotiable.
  1. Decide the minimum the U.S. will be willing to accept from North Korea. Trump attacks the Iran deal for failing to roll back Tehran’s nuclear program, ignoring its missiles, lifting limits over time, and turning a blind eye toward its other aggressive behavior in the region. If he wants to avoid making a similar deal, the U.S. and its allies should agree on what will prompt them to walk away from North Korea.
  1. Be prepared for no agreement.The U.S., South Korea and Japan should have a plan in case the talks fail. Should South Korea maintain its outreach to the North as a way to build confidence and ease tensions? Mr. Trump may prefer to isolate Pyongyang. The U.S. could press for tighter sanctions to choke North Korea or even threaten military action if Mr. Kim crosses “red lines.” If Mr. Kim can divide the U.S. from its partners, he will have achieved a great success.
  1. Get Mr. Trump to agree that he won’t wing it. Attending a summit and making news are not the same as getting results. The president’s advisers need to run through this preparatory list—or a better one—with him.

Mr. Zoellick is a former World Bank president, U.S. trade representative and deputy secretary of state.

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