Randa Slim, Sara Nelson, Darryl Matthews, Erik Strickland.

Randa Slim is the Director of the Initiative for Track II Dialogues at the Middle East Institute. 
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Mike Magner
July 11, 2014, 1 a.m.

A long­time peace­maker on the ad­vant­ages of un­of­fi­cial dip­lomacy.

Randa Slim (Chet Susslin) National Journal

Randa Slim (Chet Suss­lin)Many Amer­ic­ans, even in of­fi­cial Wash­ing­ton, feel a cer­tain sense of help­less­ness as they watch Syr­ia and Ir­aq des­cend fur­ther and fur­ther in­to chaos. Not so Randa Slim, who has made a ca­reer of con­flict res­ol­u­tion since grow­ing up in war-torn Le­ban­on in the 1970s. Slim, 54, was re­cently named dir­ect­or of a new Ini­ti­at­ive for Track II Dia­logues at the Middle East In­sti­tute, and her prin­cip­al fo­cus these days is main­tain­ing un­of­fi­cial talks among the myri­ad parties with a stake in the fu­ture of the two most frac­tured na­tions in the re­gion.

The em­phas­is has been on Syr­ia in the pro­cess so far, but with Is­lam­ic mil­it­ants tak­ing con­trol of large parts of Syr­ia and Ir­aq in re­cent weeks, par­ti­cipants are dis­cuss­ing how the crisis in Ir­aq should be ad­dressed as well, Slim says.

There are, of course, a vari­ety of dip­lo­mat­ic ef­forts, both of­fi­cial and un­of­fi­cial, tak­ing place among dif­fer­ent con­stitu­en­cies in the re­gion. “But ours,” Slim ex­plains, “is the only ap­proach that fo­cuses on the re­gion­al di­men­sion of the Syr­ia con­flict,” with rep­res­ent­at­ives from Egypt, Ir­an, Saudi Ar­a­bia, and oth­er Middle East­ern powers in­volved as well as people from the vari­ous fac­tions in­side Syr­ia. “The as­sump­tion is there will even­tu­ally be a polit­ic­al pro­cess to settle this con­flict, and for this to take place, the re­gion­al powers that are fuel­ing the dif­fer­ent sides need to get to the table,” she says. Also par­ti­cip­at­ing in the dia­logue, at semi­an­nu­al meet­ings and through phone calls and on­line chat­ter in between, are cur­rent or former gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from world powers such as the United States, Rus­sia, and China.

Slim sees sev­er­al ad­vant­ages to in­form­al talks, in­clud­ing the abil­ity of par­ti­cipants to deny they are in­volved at all. “People who en­gage in these dia­logues take per­son­al risks,” she says, “be­cause some­times you’ll be the first per­son in your re­spect­ive com­munity to say, “˜I need to sit and talk with the en­emy.’ And that can have ser­i­ous re­per­cus­sions. I’ve seen people thrown in jail be­cause they have done that. I’ve seen people los­ing their lives be­cause they have par­ti­cip­ated in a Track II dia­logue.”

“It’s a dia­logue space, it’s a brain­storm­ing space, it’s trust-build­ing space, it’s re­la­tion­ship-build­ing space, and it’s a net­work-form­a­tion space.”

Un­of­fi­cial talks can also be more pro­duct­ive pre­cisely be­cause noth­ing is bind­ing. “It’s not a ne­go­ti­ation space,” Slim says. “It’s a dia­logue space, it’s a brain­storm­ing space, it’s trust-build­ing space, it’s re­la­tion­ship-build­ing space, and it’s a net­work-form­a­tion space. In ne­go­ti­ations you are not as free to brain­storm, be­cause you don’t want to re­veal your hand. “¦ But in un­of­fi­cial talks you can, be­cause you are not bound. It’s not an of­fi­cial com­mit­ment. You can float tri­al bal­loons.”

Slim’s work in dip­lomacy draws on her ex­per­i­ence in the Le­banese civil war, which in­cluded a trau­mat­ic epis­ode in April 1983, when she was 23. “I was sit­ting one day study­ing in the lib­rary of the Amer­ic­an Uni­versity of Beirut, and this big bomb happened,” she says. “This was the bomb­ing of the Amer­ic­an Em­bassy be­hind me.” Slim de­cided then and there to de­vote her life to find­ing peace­ful solu­tions to vi­ol­ent con­flicts. “I’m not a cru­sader or any­thing,” she says, “but I felt like this is the kind of work I need to do.”

She moved to the United States to earn a doc­tor­ate at the Uni­versity of North Car­o­lina and was hired soon af­ter­ward by the Ket­ter­ing Found­a­tion, which asked her to work on the fam­ous Dart­mouth Con­fer­ence — an ini­ti­at­ive that had launched in the 1960s to start a dia­logue between the United States and the So­viet Uni­on. That led to her first Track II talks in 1993, an ef­fort to re­solve a civil war in Tajikistan. The pro­cess took sev­en years, but even­tu­ally the un­of­fi­cial dia­logue morph­ed in­to an of­fi­cial ne­go­ti­ation that res­ul­ted in a peace ac­cord, Slim says.

More re­cently, Slim has been a fel­low at the New Amer­ica Found­a­tion, an ad­viser to both the In­ter­na­tion­al In­sti­tute for Sus­tained Dia­logue and the Rock­e­feller Broth­ers Fund Peace­build­ing pro­gram, and a schol­ar at the Middle East In­sti­tute


As­so­ci­ation of Flight At­tend­ants-CWA

Sara Nelson (Chet Susslin) Chet Susslin

Sara Nel­son (Chet Suss­lin)A week be­fore 9/11, Sara Nel­son worked United Air­lines Flight 175 from Bo­ston to Los Angeles as a flight at­tend­ant. When the same flight was hi­jacked and flown in­to the World Trade Cen­ter, she lost friends in the crew. In her new role as pres­id­ent of the As­so­ci­ation of Flight At­tend­ants-CWA, Nel­son says the ex­per­i­ence re­minds her of all the skills needed by the 60,000 men and wo­men who serve about 360 mil­lion air­line pas­sen­gers every year: They must be first re­spon­ders to med­ic­al emer­gen­cies, ex­perts on safety and en­vir­on­ment­al stand­ards, and guard­i­ans against ter­ror­ist threats. At 41, Nel­son is the young­est-ever AFA-CWA pres­id­ent, but she has 18 years of ex­per­i­ence at United, in­clud­ing time spent in com­mu­nic­a­tions for the uni­on and work­ing on ne­go­ti­ations in the 38-month United bank­ruptcy that star­ted in 2002. Her job as pres­id­ent is full time, but every now and then she likes to “strap in­to the seat and push the cart” on a flight to keep in touch.


Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Black Journ­al­ists

Darryl Matthews (Chet Susslin) Chet Susslin

Darryl Mat­thews (Chet Suss­lin)Darryl Mat­thews is not an ac­count­ant, but he did a stint as ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Black Ac­count­ants. He’s not a doc­tor, but he has run the Na­tion­al Med­ic­al As­so­ci­ation, which rep­res­ents black phys­i­cians. Nor is he a journ­al­ist, but he is now ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Black Journ­al­ists, headquartered in Col­lege Park, Mary­land. Many as­so­ci­ations of pro­fes­sion­als lack the skills needed for pub­lic re­la­tions, or­gan­iz­a­tion­al mat­ters, and fun­drais­ing, Mat­thews ex­plains, and he has those in abund­ance. Born in Joplin, Mis­souri, Mat­thews, now 60, star­ted as an ex­ec­ut­ive for a col­lege fra­tern­ity as­so­ci­ation and then honed his busi­ness skills at an In­ter­net firm based in At­lanta. He sub­sequently worked for the as­so­ci­ations and also was vice pres­id­ent of the found­a­tion that de­veloped the Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr. Me­mori­al in Wash­ing­ton. Mat­thews says he is try­ing to “trans­form” the NABJ, which had fin­an­cial dif­fi­culties dur­ing the re­ces­sion but has a “very op­tim­ist­ic out­look” now.


Gov­ernors High­way Safety As­so­ci­ation

Erik Strickland (Chet Susslin) Chet Susslin

Erik Strick­land (Chet Suss­lin)While he was a stu­dent at the Uni­versity of Montana in Mis­soula, Erik Strick­land worked as a vo­lun­teer for Moth­ers Against Drunk Driv­ing and came to Wash­ing­ton for a youth sum­mit at the same time the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment ac­ted to tight­en the defin­i­tion of im­paired driv­ing to a blood-al­co­hol con­tent of 0.08 per­cent. That was in 2000, and fol­low­ing an in­tern­ship with MADD, he was tapped to work at the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s new policy shop in the na­tion’s cap­it­al in 2002. Strick­land, now 35, spent four years at MADD and then nine with the Found­a­tion for Ad­van­cing Al­co­hol Re­spons­ib­il­ity (formerly the Cen­tury Coun­cil). At the found­a­tion, Strick­land fre­quently worked with Jonath­an Adkins at the Gov­ernors High­way Safety As­so­ci­ation, and when Adkins be­came the GHSA’s ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or this year, he asked Strick­land to come on board in a new po­s­i­tion of gov­ern­ment-re­la­tions man­ager. “This is about more than drunk driv­ing,” Strick­land says. “It is tex­ting, dis­trac­ted driv­ing, and try­ing to make sure all our [state] safety of­fices are rep­res­en­ted” on Cap­it­ol Hill  and in fed­er­al agen­cies.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.