Dinner Briefing: Engaging with the Enemy

Talk Wednesday 25th February, 2009

In the second of our highly popular dinner briefing strand, this off-the-record background briefing will be followed by a 3-course dinner plus wine.

Arriving at 7pm, guests will be given a glass of wine as they sit and listen to the discussion.

Following this, they will be served dinner while having the chance to continue the discussion informally with the panellists at their tables.

From 10pm onwards the discussion will continue informally in the members area.

As the newly elected 44th president of the US, Obama has the eyes and hopes of the world upon him. From the outset, Obama has made it clear that he would like to begin a dialogue with some of the more controversial world leaders, and that talking to enemies as well as friends is high on his agenda. He carried out his first televised interview with Al-Arabiya ending what many in the Arab world saw as a war on Islam and there is intense speculation that he intends to open contacts with Hamas. He has also pledged to meet with leaders of Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea during the first year of his administration.

But however good Obama’s intentions are about engaging with the enemy, what will be the terms and conditions that these countries will demand of Obama? What will it take for Iran or North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons capacity? Will Obama really sit down to negotiate with Hamas while they refuse to recognise the state of Israel and are officially branded a terrorist group? Can Syria ever hope to have good relations with Washington while maintaining a good relationship with Iran and continuing to support Hamas and Hezbollah? And will previous negotiating experiences in Northern Ireland in the form of US Mideast special envoy George Mitchell, be enough to broker new diplomatic relationships?

Our panel of experts will discuss the likely responses of Iran, North Korea, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

H.E. Dr. Sami Khiyami has been Syrian Ambassador to the UK since November 2004.

Alastair Crooke
is the founder of Conflicts Forum – as well as having 30 years of direct experience of conflict in Ireland, South Africa, Namibia, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Colombia. He was the organiser of US and European unofficial dialogues in 2005 with Hezbollah and Hamas, facilitated various Israeli-Palestinian ceasefires during 2001-2003, and was instrumental in the negotiations which led to the end of the siege of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. He also mediated in the negotiations which led to the ceasefire declared by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in June 2003.

Kasra Naji is an Iranian journalist who lived in Tehran during Ahmadinejad’s rise to power and is author of Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran’s Radical Leader. He has reported for CNN, the BBC, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, The Economist and ABC and is now the special correspondent for BBC Persian TV.

Aidan Foster-Carter is honorary senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at Leeds University. He has followed North Korea for 40 years, and writes regularly on both Koreas for the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Oxford Analytica, Asia Intelligence, IDEAglobal, NewNations and Comparative Connections. He has his own website.

David Loyn is the BBC’s developing world correspondent. He has frequently reported from Kashmir, Sri Lanka and following the rise of the Taleban. His first book, Frontline was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2006. Butcher and Bolt: Two Hundred Years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan is a history of foreign engagement in Afghanistan beginning with the first British mission 200 years ago.