Kofi Annan has recently been in Syria. The former United Nations Secretary General's mandate from the UN and the Arab League is to reduce the violence if not convince President Assad to relinquish power. A ceasefire and/or allowing humanitarian relief to the stricken were also on the agenda. Having seen other attempts at mediation fail, the international community called upon Mr. Annan to try to convince the Syrian leaders to radically alter their behavior.
One man alone, with enormous prestige including a Nobel Peace Prize, went to Damascus to dialogue with the Syrian authorities and their stubborn leader. Other presidents in the region when confronted with similar outbreaks chose to step down from power. Mouammar Kadhafi was killed, Hosni Mubarak is in prison. For the moment, President Assad has not budged. On the contrary, he seems more determined than ever to crush the opposition even while the negotiations are going on.
We will never know what exactly transpired between Mr. Annan and the Syrian authorities. Mr. Annan said he was "cautiously optimistic" after the two meetings during which he presented "concrete proposals". We do not know the historic relations between the two men, nor the exact nature of the types of proposals Mr. Annan was allowed to present. After all, he was sent with a mandate from two international organizations and was not negotiating only on his behalf. His wriggle room was most circumscribed. We can only try to imagine what was said.
Did Kofi Annan threaten air attacks? Did he say that the international community would arm the rebels? Did he promise clemency with exile in another country? Did he say that if the violence subsided the current regime could stay in power?
Much of the historic training in negotiation simulation has been based on Western rationality. If I do this, then he will do that. Computer programs are even available to walk negotiators through different scenarios, just as there are machines to play chess. However, and this is not irrelevant, negotiations take place between human beings. For the moment, there are no formulas for emotions. Even economists, who had thought that all transactions could be quantified, are beginning to realize the importance of psychology.
Mr. Annan has enormous experience in negotiating across the globe with very different personalities. How will he try to convince the Syrians to stop the atrocities? They have their own logic, their particular rationality. Not only do we wish Mr. Annan success, but I would love to have the transcript of what was said. Peacemaking dialogue is truly the pinnacle of cross-cultural communication.