Friday, June 7, 2013

personal diplomacy

The Presidents of the United States and China are meeting today. White House officials say they want an unscripted summit, one where the talking points are set aside and the two leaders can talk freely. Instead of pre-arranged agreements, these unnamed Americans say, they are relying on personal diplomacy to begin to resolve disputed issues.

I'm all for private meetings instead of ruffles and flourishes and state dinners attended by big contributors and celebrities. But I also favor carefully crafted talking points as the best way to probe for possible areas of understanding and future agreement. Diplomacy requires thoughtful planning, not just bonhomie.

I know it's better to have cordial personal relations between heads of government than hostile ones, especially if the antipathy is petty and personal rather than  a reflection of clashing national interests. But I fear that presidents too often think that personal chemistry is sufficient to resolve disputes. Not so.

I hope the two presidents are wiser than their media handlers and actually succeed at narrowing differences. It would be easier, however, if they hadn't made such a fetish of informality.

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