The For­bes Top 10 Nego­tia­ti­ons That Will Chan­ge 2020

When par­ties sit down to nego­tia­te, the­re is hope. I have coun­se­led count­less nego­tia­ti­ons over the years and have lear­ned that gre­at mana­gers, entre­pre­neurs and sta­tes­men take a “no” as an ope­ning offer. Tho­se who refu­se to par­ti­ci­pa­te in nego­tia­ti­ons are usual­ly afraid of being pas­sed over, and tho­se who lea­ve ear­ly lea­ve count­less opti­ons on the table. Some­ti­mes the key skill of a gre­at nego­tia­tor is to get the other par­ty to stay.

In this list you will find the 10 agree­ments that have a decisi­ve impact on 2020. The­re are suc­cessful nego­tia­ti­ons, fail­ures and — most important­ly — deals that will still be nego­tia­ted in 2020.

10 The Deal Illu­si­on — Civil War in Yemen 2.0

After a four-year civil war that has cost tens of thou­sands of lives and brought Yemen to the brink of fami­ne, an agree­ment has been signed bet­ween the Yeme­ni govern­ment and sou­thern sepa­ra­tists in Riyadh. This is not an agree­ment to end the war, but only one that will turn a three-par­ty civil war into a two-par­ty civil war. It will make it less com­pli­ca­ted, but no less bloo­dy.

The nego­tia­ti­ons were hos­ted by Sau­di Crown Prin­ce Moham­med bin Sal­man and included Yeme­ni Pre­si­dent Abdu Rab­bu Man­sour Hadi, Sou­thern Tran­si­tio­nal Coun­cil Chair­man Aida­rous al-Zubai­di and UAE Crown Prin­ce Moham­med bin Zay­ed. The Iran-backed Hou­t­hi rebels were not pre­sent.

The­re are three par­ties invol­ved: the Yeme­ni govern­ment, which is sup­port­ed by Sau­di Ara­bia; the Hou­t­hi rebels, who are Shii­te Mus­lims and sup­port­ed by Iran; and the sou­thern rebels, who are sup­port­ed by the United Arab Emi­ra­tes.

This agree­ment united the sou­thern rebels with the govern­ment forces, both Sun­ni Mus­lims. A new cabi­net is to be for­med that includes the sou­ther­ners and gives them more repre­sen­ta­ti­on. No agree­ment was rea­ched with the Hout­his, who took over the capi­tal Sana in 2014. The joint forces will now con­cen­tra­te their efforts against the Hout­his in the north.

Sau­di Arabia’s Crown Prin­ce Moham­med bin Sal­man prai­sed the agree­ment, say­ing, “This agree­ment, God wil­ling, will open broa­der talks bet­ween the Yeme­ni par­ties to reach a poli­ti­cal solu­ti­on and end the war.” U.S. Pre­si­dent Donald Trump com­men­ted on the agree­ment on Twit­ter. “A very good start!” Plea­se all work hard for a final deal.”

For now, the fight­ing will be bet­ween only two par­ties ins­tead of three. But the­re is hope that the agree­ment has chan­ged the balan­ce of power so that the new allies will nego­tia­te with the Hout­his.

9. Sin­ga­po­re on the Tha­mes — The Exit of an Empire

Final­ly, light at the end of the tun­nel — or at least a ligh­ted tun­nel with regard to Brexit: After a lands­li­de vic­to­ry in the UK elec­tions, Prime Minis­ter Boris John­son can now “go through with Brexit.” He won with 46 per­cent — the lar­gest Con­ser­va­ti­ve majo­ri­ty sin­ce Mar­ga­ret That­cher.

Howe­ver, the coun­try is still divi­ded, with 52 per­cent of the vote going to par­ties that oppo­se Brexit or are recon­side­ring Brexit.
With Prime Minis­ter John­son, howe­ver, a revo­ca­ti­on or post­po­ne­ment of Brexit is off the nego­tia­ting table — Bri­tain will lea­ve the Euro­pean Uni­on by Janu­ary 2020. Howe­ver, the­re is a one-year tran­si­ti­on peri­od during which the UK will be trea­ted as a de fac­to mem­ber of the EU.

Things are get­ting very inte­res­t­ing becau­se the­re are essen­ti­al­ly two pos­si­ble out­co­mes to the nego­tia­ti­ons: If the­re is no deal or agree­ment to decou­ple, the UK and EU would trade under World Trade Orga­niza­ti­on rules. This would cau­se mas­si­ve dif­fi­cul­ties in tran­sac­tions, but the UK would be free to impo­se its own taxes and tariffs. If the­re were an agree­ment, the UK would be a juni­or part­ner, enjoy­ing the free­doms and secu­ri­ties of the EU but having to play by EU rules.

Brussels will do ever­y­thing it can to pre­vent a com­pe­ti­tor on its door­step. The EU’s chief nego­tia­tor, Michel Bar­nier, made it clear that if the UK were to start dere­gu­la­ting, it should expect a “pro­por­tio­na­te” respon­se from the EU. He used the clas­sic tech­ni­que of incre­asing his levera­ge with a hig­her aut­ho­ri­ty, name­ly the other mem­ber sta­tes: “Don’t unde­re­sti­ma­te the dif­fi­cul­ties of the rati­fi­ca­ti­on pro­cess… If it’s not rati­fied, we go back to zero.” Ursu­la von der Ley­en, the pre­si­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­si­on, made her goal very clear: “Zero tariffs, zero quo­tas, zero dum­ping.”

Boris John­son is weig­hing his opti­ons: Turn the UK into a “Sin­ga­po­re on the road,” a light­ly regu­la­ted tax haven, or be a de fac­to EU mem­ber wit­hout tho­se rights. Will the UK remain clo­se to the EU or other allies, espe­ci­al­ly the U.S.?

All eyes are on John­son. Will he keep hard­li­ners like For­eign Secre­ta­ry Domi­nic Raab — co-aut­hor of “Bri­tan­nia Unchai­ned” — or move toward a rappro­che­ment with the EU? He must also be wary of Scot­land and Nor­t­hern Ire­land, which had rejec­ted Brexit and could use this to fight for their sove­reig­n­ty. Nego­tia­ti­ons bet­ween the EU and the U.K. are sche­du­led to begin on Feb. 1, 2020.

8 Tal­king While Fight­ing — The Ceas­e­fi­re in the Trade War bet­ween Chi­na and the U.S.

Chi­na and the U.S. have rea­ched what the Chi­ne­se Minis­try of Com­mer­ce calls “con­sen­sus on prin­ci­ples.” Howe­ver, the two-year trade war appears to be a truce, not the end of the trade war.

The White House said the two par­ties “have made pro­gress in a varie­ty of are­as and are in the pro­cess of resol­ving out­stan­ding issues.” Accor­ding to the U.S. govern­ment, Chi­na has agreed to increase annu­al U.S. imports to $200 bil­li­on, spe­ci­fi­cal­ly pro­mi­sing to buy $50 bil­li­on worth of U.S. agri­cul­tu­ral pro­ducts.

What do both sides want? The United Sta­tes, repre­sen­ted by U.S. Trade Repre­sen­ta­ti­ve Robert Light­hi­zer and Tre­asu­ry Secre­ta­ry Ste­ven Mnu­ch­in, wants to redu­ce the high trade defi­cit of $419.2 bil­li­on and wants Chi­na to stop sub­si­di­zing key indus­tries and for­cing for­eign inves­tors to trans­fer tech­no­lo­gy.

Chi­na, repre­sen­ted by Vice Pre­mier Liu He, wants to keep the trade defi­cit as high as pos­si­ble and has so far been rather reluc­tant to meet U.S. demands.

Trump used the tariffs to wield power, and Chi­na was hurt bad­ly — which was espe­ci­al­ly pain­ful at a time when the coun­try is facing its slo­west eco­no­mic growth in near­ly 30 years due to a shrin­king manu­fac­tu­ring sec­tor and an aging socie­ty.

As Fan Gang, direc­tor of the Bei­jing-based think tank, the Natio­nal Eco­no­mic Rese­arch Insti­tu­te, points out, this pre-deal will lead to a very fra­gi­le peace: The U.S., the world’s tech­no­lo­gy power, is get­ting the Chi­ne­se to buy goods nor­mal­ly expor­ted by less deve­lo­ped count­ries.

Given the dif­fe­rent ten­si­ons that both super­powers have around the world, it seems that the two par­ties are moving away from each other as U.S. com­pa­nies move assets out of Chi­na. The upco­ming nego­tia­ti­ons will be very inte­res­t­ing, espe­ci­al­ly with the US pre­si­den­ti­al elec­tion loo­ming.

7. “No Breakth­rough, No Fail­ure.” Saving Ukrai­ne from a Civil War (with Rus­sia)

Ukrai­ni­an Pre­si­dent Volo­dym­yr Zel­en­sky and Rus­si­an Pre­si­dent Vla­di­mir Putin have final­ly begun nego­tia­ti­ons on the future of Ukrai­ne, which has been in con­stant turm­oil sin­ce 2014, when Rus­sia anne­xed Cri­mea. It is the bloo­diest con­flict in Euro­pe sin­ce the Bal­kan War, which clai­med near­ly 14,000 lives.

The nego­tia­ti­ons began in Decem­ber 2019 and were led by Ema­nu­el Macron and media­ted by France and Ger­ma­ny. It was the first time that Putin and his Ukrai­ni­an coun­ter­part met face to face.

The­re is a cea­se-fire, but both sides accu­se each other of brea­king the agree­ment. In Octo­ber, Zel­en­sky agreed to the “Stein­mei­er for­mu­la,” named after the for­mer Ger­man for­eign minis­ter, under which peo­p­le in the Don­bass regi­on can vote on their auto­no­my. After fier­ce pro­tests, Zel­en­sky added that the­re would be no elec­tions until the Rus­si­ans left. Zel­en­sky is under pres­su­re in a coun­try deep­ly divi­ded bet­ween natio­na­list and pro-Rus­si­an sen­ti­ments.

Rus­sia, on the other hand, is still suf­fe­ring from the EU sanc­tions, which will remain in place as long as the­re is no agree­ment with Ukrai­ne.

The EU wants peace on its bor­ders — and an unin­ter­rupt­ed flow of gas from Rus­sia to Ukrai­ne — in a 2009 dis­pu­te, Russia’s Gaz­prom had cut off its gas sup­p­ly through Ukrai­ne.

Zel­en­sky, who — against his will — beca­me a cen­tral figu­re in the impeach­ment pro­cee­dings against U.S. Pre­si­dent Donald Trump, is a for­mer come­di­an and has just resu­med his post in May 2019. The ques­ti­on is whe­ther he can hand­le a nego­tia­tor as tough and expe­ri­en­ced as Putin. Howe­ver, he held his own in the first round, with a result that the Rus­si­an broadsheet Vedo­mo­sti sum­med up as “No breakth­rough, no fail­ure.” This is a nego­tia­ti­on to watch, as it will deci­de the fate of a coun­try.

6 The Sino-Bri­tish Joint State­ment. Britain’s Lose-Lose Sce­na­rio on the Hong Kong Ques­ti­on.

A tri­al that took place more than 30 years ago beco­mes cru­cial for today’s Hong Kong, which has been in turm­oil sin­ce June, when an extra­di­ti­on bill was intro­du­ced that could lead to Hong Kong cri­mi­nal suspects being sent to main­land Chi­na to stand tri­al. The law has been with­drawn, but fier­ce pro­tests con­ti­nue.

The Sino-Bri­tish Joint Decla­ra­ti­on of 1984 was the result of nego­tia­ti­ons bet­ween Chi­ne­se lea­der Deng Xiao­ping and Bri­tish Prime Minis­ter Mar­ga­ret That­cher that sett­led the future of Hong Kong. The United King­dom, which had occu­p­ied Hong Kong sin­ce 1840, agreed to hand it over to Chi­na on July 1, 1997. The decla­ra­ti­on sta­ted that China’s poli­cy toward Hong Kong “will remain unch­an­ged for 50 years” and that Hong Kong’s legal and judi­cial sys­tems in par­ti­cu­lar would remain untouch­ed until 2047.

The Chi­ne­se con­sider the agree­ment null and void becau­se it only cover­ed the peri­od from 1984 to 1997. Chi­ne­se diplo­mat Lu Kang has sta­ted this unequi­vo­cal­ly: “We would like to rei­te­ra­te that the UK has no rights whatsoe­ver in rela­ti­on to Hong Kong sin­ce July 1, 1997.”

Domi­nic Raab, the UK For­eign Secre­ta­ry, main­ta­ins the UK’s posi­ti­on that the agree­ment “is a legal­ly bin­ding inter­na­tio­nal trea­ty that remains in force today.” In fact, the trea­ty spe­ci­fi­cal­ly men­ti­ons dates after 1997. Raab points out, “As a co-signa­to­ry to the joint decla­ra­ti­on, the UK takes the­se obli­ga­ti­ons serious­ly and sup­ports their imple­men­ta­ti­on under the ‘one coun­try, two sys­tems’ frame­work.

Mar­ga­ret That­cher pro­mi­sed that Bri­tain would not accept any vio­la­ti­on of the Sino-Bri­tish Joint Decla­ra­ti­on. And pro-demo­cra­cy poli­ti­ci­ans have just won 17 of Hong Kong’s 18 dis­tricts. In addi­ti­on, U.S. Pre­si­dent Trump just signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Demo­cra­cy Act of 2019, infu­ria­ting Chi­na.

But the UK is not the US — it sim­ply does­n’t have the clout. With the sup­port of the EU, the UK’s posi­ti­on would have been stron­ger, but now the UK is on its own. Rui­ning the rela­ti­onship with Chi­na over an issue that could lead nowhe­re would be unwi­se, espe­ci­al­ly as the UK is loo­king for allies.

5. break­fast at LVMH — and other M&A deals

Mer­gers and acqui­si­ti­ons can fail mise­ra­b­ly, but they can crea­te value and make com­pa­nies bet­ter and more pro­fi­ta­ble. Accor­ding to BCG’s M&A report, M&A deals have done quite well in the recent past. The­re have been fewer but lar­ger deals in 2019, with the avera­ge deal size incre­asing from $380.1 mil­li­on to $424.6 mil­li­on in 2019.

The­re was the $74 bil­li­on acqui­si­ti­on of Cel­ge­ne by phar­maceu­ti­cal giant Bris­tol-Myers Squibb and a $57 bil­li­on tran­sac­tion in mid-2019 when Occi­den­tal Petro­le­um Cor­po­ra­ti­on acqui­red Ana­dar­ko Petro­le­um Cor­po­ra­ti­on. With the back­ing of War­ren Buffet’s Berkshire Hat­ha­way, Occi­den­tal out­bid much lar­ger rival Che­vron.

A good exam­p­le of value crea­ti­on is the com­ple­men­ta­ry port­fo­lio of aero­space com­pa­ny United Tech­no­lo­gies, which is mer­ging with defen­se com­pa­ny Ray­the­on to form Ray­the­on Tech­no­lo­gies, with a mar­ket value of about $125 bil­li­on.

LVMH acqui­red Tif­fa­ny for $16.2 bil­li­on, or $135 per share in cash, after Tif­fa­ny rejec­ted LVMH’s offer of $120 per share. The tran­sac­tion is expec­ted to clo­se in mid-2020, sub­ject to regu­la­to­ry and Tif­fa­ny share­hol­der appr­oval.

While LVMH’s $16.2 bil­li­on acqui­si­ti­on of U.S. jewe­ler Tiffany’s is far from the lar­gest tran­sac­tion of the year, it is the lar­gest deal in the histo­ry of luxu­ry. The luxu­ry indus­try is a reflec­tion of con­su­mer pre­fe­ren­ces in a world that is beco­ming incre­asing­ly afflu­ent and whe­re con­su­mer tas­tes are mer­ging in the age of social media.

Tif­fa­ny was foun­ded in New York in 1837 and rose to ico­nic sta­tus through the cult clas­sic “Break­fast at Tiffany’s”, beco­ming the epi­to­me of sophisti­ca­ted US luxu­ry. Nevert­hel­ess, Tif­fa­ny had major pro­blems until the turn of the cen­tu­ry in 2017 and its expan­si­on into Asia, espe­ci­al­ly Chi­na, is very vola­ti­le due to the trade war bet­ween the US and Chi­na.

The French luxu­ry giant LVMH owns brands such as Lou­is Vuit­ton, Moët & Chan­don, Dom Peri­gnon, Given­chy and recent­ly acqui­red the luxu­ry hotel chain Bel­mont. With a mar­ket capi­ta­liza­ti­on of more than 200 bil­li­on euros, LVMH is the lar­gest luxu­ry com­pa­ny in the world and the second lar­gest com­pa­ny in Euro­pe after the oil and gas group Roy­al Dutch Shell.

LVMH’s foun­der, chair­man and lar­gest share­hol­der Ber­nard Arnault, Europe’s richest man with an esti­ma­ted $106.9 bil­li­on for­tu­ne, appli­ed the 1980s MO Cor­po­ra­te Rai­ders of Wall Street to the luxu­ry indus­try. You’ll hard­ly know any of the label’s desi­gners — the­re are no Tom Fords working for him. It’s his phi­lo­so­phy to empower the brands in his port­fo­lio, not make them stars. In a world whe­re the luxu­ry sec­tor is con­stant­ly gro­wing, his idea has crea­ted an empire, and this deal is ano­ther cor­ner­stone. It’s a deal that will make Tif­fa­ny stron­ger.

4. wai­ting for nego­tia­tors — saving Vene­zue­la from civil war

Vene­zue­la, one of the world’s most oil-rich nati­ons, is bro­ke. Ano­ther fai­led attempt at socia­lism star­ted by the late Pre­si­dent Hugo Chá­vez, with laws such as the “Land and Agra­ri­an Deve­lo­p­ment Law,” under which the govern­ment can take pri­va­te land if it belie­ves it is not being used to the maxi­mum.

After Chávez’s death in 2013, Nicolás Madu­ro beca­me inte­rim pre­si­dent and has remain­ed in office ever sin­ce. After a 2018 elec­tion that was cri­ti­ci­zed as ille­gi­ti­ma­te, the oppo­si­ti­on swo­re in Juan Guai­dó, a rival inte­rim pre­si­dent who has sin­ce been reco­gni­zed by most Wes­tern count­ries. Guai­dó accu­ses Madu­ro of fai­ling to honor 2016 nego­tia­ted agree­ments that cal­led for free elec­tions and the ope­ning of a huma­ni­ta­ri­an chan­nel. Madu­ro, on the other hand, con­siders him a pup­pet of the United Sta­tes.

In ear­ly 2019, four Latin Ame­ri­can and eight Euro­pean count­ries for­med the “Cont­act Group on Vene­zue­la” to media­te for the country’s future and cal­led for new elec­tions. Howe­ver, a sub­se­quent UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil reso­lu­ti­on cal­ling for free and fair pre­si­den­ti­al elec­tions was rejec­ted by Chi­na and Rus­sia.

Even­tual­ly, the two sides began nego­tia­ti­ons media­ted by the Nor­we­gi­an Cen­ter for Con­flict Reso­lu­ti­on. Seve­ral rounds of nego­tia­ti­ons in Oslo fai­led. Accor­ding to Guai­dó, “The dic­ta­to­ri­al regime of Nico­las Madu­ro bro­ke off the nego­tia­ti­on pro­cess with fal­se excu­ses.”

In the sum­mer, the United Sta­tes tigh­ten­ed sanc­tions, mani­fest­ing Wes­tern sup­port for oppo­si­ti­on lea­der Guai­dó, while Madu­ro con­ti­nues to be backed by Rus­sia and Chi­na. On April 30, Guai­dó led a coup to over­throw Madu­ro, but it fai­led spec­ta­cu­lar­ly. Sin­ce then, his nego­tia­ting levera­ge has been dwind­ling: not only did he fail, but his Wes­tern backers were ali­en­ated by the attempt­ed mili­ta­ry coup. The nego­tia­ting weight shifted to Madu­ro.

Dag Nylan­der, who heads inter­na­tio­nal peace efforts at the Nor­we­gi­an For­eign Minis­try, made it clear that Nor­way is rea­dy to media­te nego­tia­ti­ons if the two par­ties are wil­ling to return to the nego­tia­ting table. An agree­ment, he said, is essen­ti­al to save the coun­try from a cata­stro­phic civil war.

3. Make or Break It — Why Gre­ta Could­n’t Save the Deal

The high­ly anti­ci­pa­ted COP25 United Nati­ons cli­ma­te talks, held in Madrid start­ing Dec. 3, con­cluded after 13 long days, but the agree­ments rea­ched yiel­ded almost not­hing.

This is sur­pri­sing given the atten­ti­on this topic is attrac­ting — and has attrac­ted only recent­ly. When I work­ed on cli­ma­te chan­ge for the Ger­man dele­ga­ti­on to the United Nati­ons in New York in 2009, it was­n’t neces­s­a­ri­ly a hot topic (excu­se the pun). Now that teenage acti­vist Gre­ta Thun­berg has beco­me a super­star and hundreds of thou­sands are mar­ching on the streets of Madrid during the con­fe­rence, one would expect results.

The aim of the nego­tia­ti­ons was to dis­cuss the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the Paris Agree­ment from 2015, in which 200 count­ries agreed to limit glo­bal warm­ing to less than 2 degrees Cel­si­us.
Among the most important nego­tia­ting points was Artic­le 6, which deals with glo­bal emis­si­ons tra­ding, which can make or break the enti­re Paris Agree­ment.

One of the issues is whe­ther count­ries can use “trans­fera­ble” car­bon cre­dits from the Kyo­to Pro­to­col to meet their com­mit­ments to the Paris Agree­ment. Cri­tics worry that this emis­si­ons tra­ding could allow tar­gets to be met on paper but not in the atmo­sphe­re. Sup­port­ers see Artic­le 6 as a way to get the who­le world to act on cli­ma­te.

On the first day of the con­fe­rence, one nego­tia­tor com­men­ted that suc­cess on Artic­le 6 would be a “mira­cle.” Well, mira­cles can hap­pen, but no mira­cle hap­pen­ed at COP25 — the­re was no deal. The Asso­cia­ti­on of Small Island Sta­tes (AOSIS) bla­med Chi­na, India and Bra­zil in par­ti­cu­lar.

The only agree­ment to redu­ce emis­si­ons rea­ched during the con­fe­rence was not even part of the COP25 talks, but a pledge by EU lea­ders to eli­mi­na­te their car­bon foot­print by 2050.

With over 27,000 dele­ga­tes from over 190 nati­ons forming myri­ad alli­ances, this is as com­plex as a mul­ti-stake­hol­der nego­tia­ti­on can get. Many count­ries have fai­led to take action, and the U.S. has even pul­led out of the agree­ment.

Much time has been was­ted on the pro­cess, arguing about how to label nego­tia­ti­ons. They are now cal­led “mul­ti­la­te­ral infor­mal talks with co-faci­li­ta­tors.” Don’t ask.

Antó­nio Guter­res, UN Secre­ta­ry Gene­ral, was very dis­ap­poin­ted with the out­co­me, tweeting, “The inter­na­tio­nal com­mu­ni­ty has missed an important oppor­tu­ni­ty to show more ambi­ti­on in miti­ga­ting, adap­ting and finan­cing the cli­ma­te cri­sis. But we must not give up, and I will not give up.”

Hop­eful­ly, a bet­ter agree­ment will be rea­ched at COP26 in Glas­gow in 2020, with only weeks to go befo­re the Paris Agree­ment beg­ins. Time pres­su­re can do won­ders to the dyna­mics of a nego­tia­ti­on.

2 A new Camp David deal? Nego­tia­ting with the Tali­ban

U.S. Pre­si­dent Donald Trump paid a sur­pri­se visit to U.S. tro­ops on Thanks­gi­ving, announ­cing the con­ti­nua­tion of peace nego­tia­ti­ons with the Tali­ban: “The Tali­ban want to make a deal. We will see if they want to make a deal. It has to be a real deal, but we’ll see. But they want to make a deal.” The Tali­ban quick­ly respon­ded that they were “rea­dy to resu­me talks.” And inde­ed, the talks bet­ween the Tali­ban con­tin­ued whe­re they ended.

The U.S. wants the Tali­ban to end vio­lent attacks and com­mit not to har­bor ter­ro­rists. For their part, U.S. Secre­ta­ry of Sta­te Mike Pom­peo and his chief nego­tia­tor Zal­may Kha­lilzad would offer the Tali­ban the with­dra­wal of U.S. tro­ops.

Last year, after nine rounds of tho­rough nego­tia­ti­ons in Qatar, a deal bet­ween the U.S. and the Tali­ban was near­ly fina­li­zed. Pre­si­dent Trump invi­ted Tali­ban lea­ders to Camp David, the president’s ico­nic retre­at, just days befo­re the anni­ver­sa­ry of the 9/11 attacks to dra­ma­ti­cal­ly clo­se the deal with hims­elf as deal­ma­ker. But when a Tali­ban-clai­med car bomb in Kabul kil­led a U.S. sol­dier and 11 others, Trump can­ce­led the peace talks. Nego­tia­ti­ons were on hold-but they were not over. U.S. offi­ci­als con­tin­ued to make small deals with the Tali­ban, such as exchan­ging pri­soners to keep com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on chan­nels open. The Tali­ban, on the other hand, kept a fair­ly low pro­fi­le about Trump, demons­t­ra­ting their wil­ling­ness to nego­tia­te.

Back at the nego­tia­ting table, Trump employs his old nego­tia­ting tac­tic of not show­ing much inte­rest in the Taliban’s wil­ling­ness to make a deal: “If they do, they do, and if they don’t, they don’t. That’s fine.”

Howe­ver, a poli­ti­cal solu­ti­on is America’s only way out of an 18-year war — America’s lon­gest war, out­las­ting even Viet­nam or both world wars com­bi­ned. Inde­ed, world powers have a tra­di­ti­on of fail­ure in Afgha­ni­stan: at the height of their power, both the Bri­tish and the Soviet empires fai­led to con­quer Afgha­ni­stan, losing men, money and mora­le. The Tali­ban, of cour­se, are awa­re of the Ame­ri­can public’s war-wea­ri­ne­ss, and they know that Trump is incli­ned to with­draw U.S. tro­ops from for­eign wars. Howe­ver, mere­ly with­dra­wing U.S. tro­ops would redu­ce U.S. influence and could lead to the Tali­ban taking over the enti­re coun­try.

Afghan elec­tions just con­firm­ed Ashraf Gha­ni as pre­si­dent, but the Tali­ban still refu­se to talk to the Afghan govern­ment and see it as a U.S. pup­pet. But igno­ring Gha­ni would be a gre­at insult to the head of sta­te, which is why Trump met with him on his Thanks­gi­ving trip.

In light of the U.S. pre­si­den­ti­al elec­tion, the most favorable move for can­di­da­te Trump would be to end the Viet­nam War of the modern era. The New York Times ana­ly­zed why clo­sing that deal would be a mat­ter of the heart for Trump: “the year­ning pur­su­it of the big pri­ze, the end­less quest for what no other pre­si­dent has achie­ved, the wil­ling­ness to defy con­ven­ti­on, the vola­ti­le mood swings and the tri­bal strug­gles.“
Ins­hal­lah. Wha­te­ver the moti­va­ti­on, this deal could final­ly end a long and bloo­dy war.

1. the syri­an come­back — how tur­key and rus­sia could end a war

The Syria peace talks are a text­book exam­p­le of the impact of chan­ging levera­ge in nego­tia­ti­ons. And an exam­p­le of how the real deal hap­pens away from the spot­light.

The offi­ci­al Gen­e­va nego­tia­ti­ons — the fourth attempt — under the auspi­ces of U.N. Spe­cial Envoy for Syria Geir Peder­son, include 150 offi­ci­al repre­sen­ta­ti­ves: 50 dele­ga­tes loy­al to the govern­ment, 50 oppo­si­ti­on figu­res lar­ge­ly sup­port­ed by Tur­key and Sau­di Ara­bia, and 50 civi­li­an repre­sen­ta­ti­ves.

The oppo­si­ti­on bloc known as the “Syri­an Nego­tia­ti­ons Com­mis­si­on,” howe­ver, has litt­le mili­ta­ry influence and is deep­ly divi­ded, but still calls for Assad to lea­ve office and for the intro­duc­tion of a new con­sti­tu­ti­on. As the Syri­an govern­ment regai­ned con­trol of near­ly all of the coun­try, oppo­si­ti­on co-chair Hadi al-Bahra hum­bly ope­ned the Gen­e­va talks: “It’s time for us to belie­ve that vic­to­ry in Syria means jus­ti­ce and peace, not win­ning the war.” Assad made clear how serious­ly he takes the nego­tia­ti­ons by making it clear that his own dele­ga­ti­on has no aut­ho­ri­ty: “The Syri­an govern­ment is not invol­ved in the­se nego­tia­ti­ons or the­se talks.”

The only force that takes Assad serious­ly is the Syri­an Kur­dish militi­as that still con­trol the oil-rich nor­the­ast of the coun­try. But the Kurds have been excluded from the talks becau­se of a veto by Tur­key, which con­siders them part of the Kur­di­stan Workers’ Par­ty (PKK), the cham­pi­on of a socia­list natio­na­list sta­te. In a For­eign Poli­cy inquiry, a U.S. Sta­te Depart­ment spo­kes­man in Gen­e­va con­firm­ed sup­port for the “peo­p­le of nor­the­as­tern Syria”-which could only mean the Kurds. Howe­ver, the U.S. gave up much of its influence when it aban­do­ned its for­mer allies by with­dra­wing its tro­ops. The U.S. does not want to ruin its rela­ti­ons with Tur­key over Kur­dish inde­pen­dence.

UN envoy Peder­sen cal­led on all count­ries to lea­ve the Gen­e­va nego­tia­ti­ons as an exclu­si­ve­ly “Syri­an-led pro­cess.” It is too late, the Syri­an cri­sis has beco­me a batt­le bet­ween the US, Tur­key, Rus­sia and Iran. At least all rele­vant par­ties are sit­ting in the same room.

Assad hims­elf is not very inte­res­ted in nego­tia­ti­ons, becau­se time has made him stron­ger than ever. The Kurds are forced to nego­tia­te a deal with Assad, but on his terms. This will be the only nego­tia­ti­on that could end an eight-and-a-half-year civil war after near­ly half the popu­la­ti­on has been dis­pla­ced and 65 % of Syria’s infra­struc­tu­re des­troy­ed.

As oppo­si­ti­on co-chair Hadi al-Bahra right­ly said, “Wit­hout real poli­ti­cal chan­ge, Assad’s regime can­not nor­ma­li­ze its rela­ti­ons with sta­tes, can­not rejoin the Arab League, can­not achie­ve reli­ef from sanc­tions, and can­not achie­ve recon­s­truc­tion. In fact, Tur­key and Rus­sia might actual­ly find a solu­ti­on to the pro­blem — away from the 150 dele­ga­tes.

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