Negotiation Case Studies August 06, 2009

Proof - Persistence Works

Yesterday morning, American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling arrived back in the United States after being detained in North Korea since March. It was a joyous occasion that came about thanks to a mission by former President Bill Clinton and also to months of “back channel” negotiations between the United States and North Korea...

Yesterday morning, American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling arrived back in the United States after being detained in North Korea since March. It was a joyous occasion that came about thanks to a mission by former President Bill Clinton and also to months of “back channel” negotiations between the United States and North Korea.

At first, it seemed that Clinton had gone to North Korea to negotiate for the release of the journalists. The media later reported that Clinton was recruited to fulfill the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s request for a very high level American representative. In fact, the negotiations had already been concluded and Clinton’s trip was the final demand from North Korea.

In the past few months, North Korea has been testing the United States. They have been testing missiles, threatening to attack Hawaii and had sentenced Lee and Ling to 12 years of hard labor, which was seen as a harsh punishment for a minor offense. Kim Jong-Il had been rumored to be sick and there has been talk of regime change.

From the moment the journalists were detained in March, through Bill Clinton’s arrival in North Korea, secret negotiations were being held with the North Koreans, with the assistance of the Swedish government. The United States relied on third parties to be able to communicate with the North Koreans, and found a way to reach a win-win, face-saving scenario for both countries.

For the North Koreans, Bill Clinton’s presence fulfilled Kim Il-Jung’s desire for the appearance of a high-level American official (he had rejected former Vice President Al Gore) and also gave him the sense of being taken seriously. The release of the journalists was deliberately not linked to any other issue the U.S. may have wanted to discuss such as North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. For the U.S., the journalists were released in what appeared to be a non-official humanitarian mission led by Bill Clinton, so the American government fulfilled its pledge not to negotiate directly with terrorist nations.

The New York Times reports that the administration will not change its strategy for dealing with North Korea, but that: “The release of the journalists could break an impasse between the United States and North Korea because, officials and outside experts said, there was virtually no prospect of reviving nuclear negotiations as long as the women appeared to be headed to a North Korean prison camp.” (Read the full analysis here.)

In diplomatic negotiations, as in business negotiations, it is important to be able to reach win-win deals. Persistence and careful consideration of demands ultimately pay off in achieving a satisfactory resolution.
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