8-29-11: When To Talk to a Terrorist
This segment originally aired on November 24, 2011.
You often hear the line: “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” But according to former diplomat and Washington College president Mitchell Reiss, sometimes you actually do. Along with heading the State Department’s Office of Policy and Planning from 2003 to 2005, which put him in the middle of U.S. dealings with North Korea … and … from 2003 to 2007 he was President Bush’s Special Envoy for the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
In that assignment, he thought a lot about terrorism, and how to deal with it. He recalls watching family members who had lost loved ones in bombings in Northern Ireland … share hors d’oeuvres and drinks with former terrorists at a diplomatic reception … and wondering how they could summon the grace to engage with mortal enemies. It made him wonder how democratic states could do the same thing.
So Mitchell Reiss set himself a research assignment that many of the students at Washington College would envy: He spent two years traveling the world, talking to government officials, generals, intelligence officers, counter-terrorism experts and former terrorists to find out when it makes sense to reach out and talk, and when it doesn’t. The result was his book: Negotiating with Evil: When to Talk to Terrorists, which I discussed with him last November.