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Trump must master the art of negotiation with North Korea

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Donald Trump has demonstrated a greater ability than past presidents to break international deals, from the Trans Pacific Partnership to the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, than to make them.

But he has a unique opportunity to make the deal of his political life with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. For the sake of peace, I hope the president succeeds in that historic effort. But as a negotiations professor, I believe that will require him doing some things that do not come naturally to him. For one thing, the president speaks about the meeting with Kim almost exclusively in terms of America’s interests.

{mosads}To get another party to agree, you must learn what matters and propose something to satisfy their interests. Henry Ford said, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

It is crucial for Trump to understand Kim’s perspective, not to agree with it, but to understand how to deal more effectively with it. He needs to understand, for example, that North Korea believes the United States began the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula by deploying nuclear weapons in South Korea from 1958 to 1991, and by maintaining a nuclear threat to North Korea to this day.

The president’s “fire and fury” comments last summer did nothing to allay that fear in Pyongyang. A 2016 article in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s ruling party, explains that “never ending threats” from the United States left North Korea with no choice but to “counter them with its own nuclear deterrent.”

Trump needs to prepare extensively for this summit and the subsequent talks after the meeting. The president said last week, “I don’t think I have to prepare very much,” for his meeting with Kim. But Wharton negotiation expert Richard Shell insists that “a willingness to prepare” is one of four key habits of effective negotiators.

Harvard negotiation expert William Ury says that the key to effective negotiation is to “prepare, prepare, prepare.” He adds “most negotiations are won or lost even before the talking begins” depending on how well prepared the parties are, and that negotiators “who think they can ‘wing it’ without preparing often find themselves sadly mistaken.”

Wendy Sherman, who negotiated with North Korea as a senior State Department official, said of Kim, “He is prepared, he will do his homework.” Doing homework comes no more naturally to Trump than staying off Twitter. I hope he does not find himself “sadly mistaken” come Wednesday, but I won’t wonder why if he does.

The president also needs to have a little bit of humility. He said of meeting with Kim, “I’ve been preparing for this all my life.” He has been negotiating all his life, but cutting New York real estate deals is as different from negotiating peace with North Korea as doing simple addition and subtraction are different from doing calculus.

New York real estate deals surely involved tough characters, but they also involved people who knew each other, discussing issues they are familiar with in a market they understand, and in a shared culture and language. In Singapore, Trump will be negotiating with a leader he does not know, from a culture he has little experience with, about issues he is probably not up to speed on, and with a language barrier to boot.

The president has not been preparing for this negotiation his whole life. Trump, who has boasted of having a bigger nuclear button than Kim does, must also humbly recognize that having greater power does not mean having greater leverage. Leverage in negotiations is a function of which party can walk away from the deal more easily.

Trump badly wants to succeed where other presidents have failed and to demonstrate his dealmaking prowess on a world stage. That will make it hard for him to walk away having accomplished nothing. Kim, on the other hand, has already succeeded by having the leader of the most powerful nation on earth travel halfway around the globe for a one-on-one meeting with him as the emerging leader of a nuclear nation.

The president must wait until the race is over before taking a victory lap. He has wisely tamped down expectations recently, but early in May, he said that “everyone thinks” he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic achievements with North Korea. That talk will remain premature until an agreement is not only reached, but honored.

Joseph Holt teaches negotiations and ethics as an associate professor at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

Tags Diplomacy Donald Trump Global Affairs North Korea Summit United States

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