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A New U.S. Approach to Russia

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The crisis with Russia requires the U.S. to bring along much of the world to effectively isolate Putin's government. At the same time, the U.S. has to demonstrate that it is prepared to engage in dialogue when warranted.

Given these diverse needs, which may continue for the long term, consider a universal approach to international negotiations that could be applied to Russia today: After private talks fail or stall, the U.S. could encourage public talks.

The principal communications instrument of public talks is a dialogue document. This would be a series of magazine-sized documents of one to 12 pages each that would be available on a formal Internet platform.

Public talk is a process based on a set of rules and terms that would create a level communications playing field between two adversaries in writing. Public talks could take place at a fast pace on an emergency basis, as well as a more measured four- to six-week process that was planned well in advance.

A central characteristic defines public talks: This open process proceeds regardless of the nature of the response.

Variations of founding principles, which would shape when and how this process should be applied, are addressed below.

The motive to respond would be shaped by the knowledge that a rejection of this written negotiating process may lead to the ascendancy of an adversary's historical narrative. The U.S. could engage the citizens and leaders of many countries to the history behind this crisis. And Russia would also have the opportunity to put forth their perspective.

Dialogue documents will also allow each side to pose questions to the other side, state negotiating positions and provide other pertinent information in this defined format. Later rounds of this process would allow for drilling down on the assumptions and views of the other side.

Public talk is a diplomatic tool that could be adapted to a wide range of circumstances. Had this process existed for a year or two, the Yanukovych government and the opposition could have begun this step-by-step procedure many months ago.

This step-by-step progression will create a new way in which the world public could look at unresolved conflicts. By having a central thread of arguments in a well-known and defined structure, everyone would know that this was history unfolding.

If this public negotiating process culminates in a single document signed by both sides, confidence would increase that agreed-upon terms would be adhered to. These written agreements may be less likely to be reinterpreted after the fact.

A major entity would need to create the necessary rules and terms for public talks.

The U.S. is uniquely suited to create this level communication playing field in an open and transparent way and have it widely accepted.

Alternatively, the Obama administration could assemble a group of ad hoc nations, perhaps similar to the group now involved with Iran, but without needing Russia. This would be at least the U.S., China, the UK, Germany, France and whoever else is deemed appropriate by this initiative. Russia could be invited based on certain defined principles. The UN auspices, which would require Russia's approval, is now problematic.

A first reaction to public talks from many political leaders across the globe is that they hold negotiations sacred and will not want to see this formal environment changed in any way. In a similar vein, established leaders will generally not want to be compelled to communicate within a structured format and on an equal basis with those who hold opposing views.

Yet a deeper and more telling response is that many of these same leaders truly want to see actual agreements. The establishment of a new diplomatic tool makes an option for international dialogue a reality.

Private talks will of course continue, and this might occasionally happen against a backdrop where one side or the other is about to put its views and perspectives before the world public in this written and defined format.

The UN would ultimately want to adopt this new form of structured political dialogue. Although all UN initiatives are scrutinized and opposed by someone, it would be difficult to argue long-term against a level communication playing field.

The overseeing body tasked with establishing this process would undoubtedly create a formula for democracy movements. The inclusion of photos and background material on each of the participating leaders would effectively provide a public vetting process regarding the people behind a specific group.

U.S. actions to advance public talks will sound a clarion call that Americans are interested in not just the symptoms of international conflicts but their underlying causes. An America that does not fear the emergence of historical truth is more likely to see its policies and principles embraced around the world.

John Connolly can be reached at