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SUMMARISING DIPLOMACY: Former UK Ambassador Charles Crawford creates a lively example to offer insight into the art of recording a conversation

*Refer to footnotes*


Bashem Foreign Minister Badhun links MEGON contract signing to progress on UK/Bashem nuclear export licences and UK support in Bashem’s dispute with Eutopia over islands.2 Denies any problems with North Korea. Action needed before Summit.3

The Foreign Secretary called Bashem Foreign Minister Badhun4 on 30 April5 to take stock of preparations for the forthcoming visit to London by the Bashem Prime Minister.


The Foreign Secretary6 said that the UK side was expecting the Prime Ministers’ meeting to be marked by announcement of the MEGON missile contract. Bilateral relations were improving fast: this contract would be a strong symbol of success.7
Mr Badhun said that his Prime Minister was looking forward to the Summit, not least as he recalled his student days in Leicester and was delighted to see Leicester City FC doing so well.8 However, the Prime Minister was facing domestic embarrassment over nuclear export licence refusals by the UK side: three in the past few days to add to four earlier refusals. The Prime Minister’s cousin headed the Bashem nuclear authority: these refusals were making things very difficult, both substantively and presentationally.9
Mr Badhun emphasised that the UK’s ‘box-ticking’ approach seemed to be indicating a lack of trust in Bashem: “We are showing that we trust you, but you don’t seem to be trusting us!”10 The Prime Minister “could not leave London empty-handed.”11
The Foreign Secretary said that as Bashem knew, the UK had fully to respect its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations. These licences had not been refused; they were in the queue pending further assurances from the Bashem side.
The Foreign Secretary proposed some senior bilateral consultations in London in the coming days at which any remaining concerns might be addressed in a spirit of professional partnership before the Summit.12
Foreign Minister Badhun welcomed (Comment: warmly)13 this idea, suggesting that the Prime Minister’s cousin himself take part. Bashem too was a full NPT member state and took its obligations seriously.


The Foreign Secretary said that reports linking Bashem to over-close contacts with North Korea had raised some eyebrows14 in London and elsewhere.
Mr Badhun said that nothing improper or worrying was going on. He added (Comment: cryptically) that several Bashem officials were now facing disciplinary action in this regard.


Foreign Minister Badhun raised Bashem’s problems with Eutopia over some disputed islands. The Eutopia position was ‘scandalous and ridiculous.’ The Prime Minister in London would be looking for active UK support.
The Foreign Secretary said that the UK side would be open to discussing ways in which the UK might work with both sides quietly to move this problem towards a mutually acceptable solution. The forthcoming meeting of senior officials might look at this as well. He would give some thought to using his own good offices to promote constructive dialogue.
Mr Badhun said that all that would be very welcome. This was an issue of high domestic profile and sensitivity in Bashem.15


The Bashem leadership look ready to conclude the MEGON contract at the forthcoming Summit (or at least they registered no principled objections in this conversation), but they want to use this issue as leverage on the nuclear technology and Eutopia/islands issues.16
We should aim to use the agreed senior official exchanges to work out (without setting any precedents for other countries)17 language and associated process that helps them address their concerns in both substantive and presentational terms. Further Bashem ‘expectations’ no doubt will emerge as the Summit approaches.18
If the Prime Minister’s cousin comes to London as proposed, we should be able to get suitable nuclear technology export assurances in to the Bashem system at the highest operational level, and steer them towards not over-pressing on anything else.19


Action is already in hand with the Bashemis20 to set up the senior officials’ consultations quickly with a view to getting from them the assurances we need on at least some of these nuclear technology licence applications.21
We are considering how if at all we might contribute towards helping Bashem and Eutopia address their islands dispute constructively, including through the Foreign Secretary himself.22 The forthcoming regional Energy Forum gives the Secretary of State for Energy23 a chance to have a senior quiet word with both sides.
One idea is to offer the good offices of a senior UK expert on this region to work with the Bashemis and Eutopians and help them prepare an agreed basis for an eventual mediation of some sort. But even this will need choreographing carefully with both parties.24

The Bashem Prime Minister’s Leicester City interest is noteworthy. We’ll explore urgently with Number Ten inviting the chairman or manager of LCFC to the Prime Minister’s reception during the Summit and/or otherwise getting that aspect reflected in the programme.

  1. Get the key issues right at the top of the page
    in a subtitle, so the reader sees immediately what the document is about
  2. The key negotiation issues are spelled out
  3. Make clear upfront that the text below has action points
  4. Demonstrate who initiated the call
  5. Give the date (IE don’t say ‘this afternoon’). Helpful for the historical record
  6. Start each paragraph by making it 100% clear who is saying what
  7. Shows the rest of UK government that Foreign Secretary (FS) is opening by pushing UK interests – no need to go into much detail
  8. Personal information is helpful to the intelligence agencies and gives ideas for making the guest welcome at the summit – see Next Steps
  9. Not exactly what he said but a fair summary of what he was saying!
  10. By using exact words the FM said you give the reader a sense of his tone/energy/intensity. Here the key word is Trust – make it clear in the record.
  11. Important implicit message from Bashem side – we need something useful in return if you are to get that contract!
  12. Make it clear that this was the UK FM’s suggestion.
  13. When inserting a comment in the factual report, make it clear it’s a comment
  14. Very ‘British’ way to put it – suggests an unwelcome surprise on the face of it
  15. End the substantive record on a bold note that goes to sum up a key part of the other side’s position, even if this was not exactly the order in which the words emerged
  16. The heart of the whole discussion – the key negotiation that’s going on!
  17. NB this qualification which is mainly to show that the FCO team are awake to the wider picture – once other countries see Bashem getting such ‘special treatment,’ they’ll want it too!
  18. Likewise shows that cynical FCO officials are not ruling out more last-minute Bashem tricks and ‘demands’ if they are to sign that contract. (“Always press for more!”)
  19. Shows one way to try to manage escalating Bashem ‘demands’. We want the MEGON contract but not at any price!
  20. We officials are getting on with our job fast.
  21. Using bold helps different Whitehall readers spot the passages they need to read
  22. As per the FS’ suggestion in the record – ideas now needed!
  23. NB Look at relationships from all angles.
    Keep your eyes open for both formal and informal ways to have smart quiet exchanges, not least to help with building trust.
  24. Make clear that this will be sensitive work – the Eutopians will probably reject anything looking like a UK move prompted by the Bashemis!


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