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Let's Talk

By Jennifer L. Mnookin

The United States should negotiate with the Soviet Union in good faith even if it is coercive or has lied to us, Roger Fisher '43 told an audience of several hundred yesterday.

"We should do only those things that are good for our relationship [with the Soviets] and good for us, no matter what they're doing," Fisher said. "If they deceive us, let's not trust them, but let's still be reliable."

Other panelists at the symposium "The International Negotiation Process: Can We Improve It?"--in particular Arthur Hartman '47, ambassador to the Soviet Union--thought that Fisher's plan was not entirely realistic.

"It's all very well to say we're going to go in and have all these rational rules, but you're dealing with an authoritarian leader," he said.

But all of the speakers thought that the negotiation process could be significantly improved.

A general theme was the necessity for American negotiators to make a serious effort to understand Soviet interests before becoming locked in a particular position. "If we are to be successful--reasonably so--it behooves us to make significant efforts to understand their position, so we can judge their consistency," said former U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson '41.

"We want to know what their interests are, and then work for both our interests," Fisher said. "We tend to insist that we are always right and the Russians are always wrong. It's very hard to have a working relationship with anyone this way. It's like saying 'I'm always right and you're always wrong and now let's talk about it.' "

Panelists agreed that our current policies and rhetoric can often harm the negotiation process. "There are better ways to build a relationship than for us to call them an evil empire and for them to call us a pornographic society. It may be perfectly true, but it's not very constructive," said Fisher.

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