Stuart Eizenstat: 2003 Great Negotiator

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Panel Discussion with Stuart Eizenstat
Great Negotiator Award Ceremony
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Recipient of the 2003 Great Negotiator Award

Download the background document, Stuart Eizenstat and The Negotiation of The Final Accounts of World War II
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The 2003 Great Negotiator Award
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Stuart Eizenstat, former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Under Secretary of Commerce, Under Secretary of State, and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, was honored on October 1, 2003 with the Program on Negotiation’s Great Negotiator Award.

The Great Negotiator Award is presented each year to an individual whose lifetime achievements in the field of negotiation and dispute resolution have had a significant and lasting impact. This year, the award honors Stuart Eizenstat for his landmark efforts to reclaim property and achieve some restitution for victims of Nazi Germany. In the words of Susan Hackley, PON Managing Director, the 2003 Great Negotiator Award recognizes Eizenstat’s “outstanding skill as a negotiator in this extremely complex and difficult environment.”

At the award dinner given in Eizenstat’s honor, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers gave a warm introduction to his friend and former Treasury Department colleague, commenting, “of Stu’s many accomplishments in public life, I suspect the one that will be remembered longest … is his work on the Holocaust assets issue…” This complex problem, centered around the millions of dollars of assets and property stolen from forced laborers, Jews, and other victims of the Nazis, was the subject of Eizenstat’s “second job” during six long years of negotiations.

The assets issue, involving as it did the Swiss banks as well as private corporations and the governments of Austria, Germany, and France, was described by President Summers as “intractable.” But, he continued, “it also had something else . . . it was of the most profound moral significance to everyone who was involved . . . If anyone in our country other than Stu Eizenstat had been in charge of that negotiation,” Summers asserted, it would surely have collapsed, leaving those observers and participants with only the bitter “joy of indignation” at the failure to act against this long-standing injustice.

Despite the fundamental role he played in the achievement of $8 billion of reparations for victims of the Nazis, Eizenstat’s description of the process was touched by his profound sense of humility. “I call the work that we did ‘imperfect justice,’ and if that seems a contradiction, it is not one here,” he remarked. “There can be no final accounting, even for those who did recover something. And yet, there was still an accountability, a sense that justice has been done.”

“I close this chapter in my life, and accept with great humility your award,” Eizenstat concluded, “with one of my favorite quotes, from a book called Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot). I think it summarizes what our team, our administration, the Program on Negotiation, and perhaps all of us try to do … and that saying is, ‘it is not your obligation to finish the task, but neither are you free to exempt yourself from it.'”

Also present for the award ceremony, among numerous other special guests, were Greta Beer, a Holocaust survivor whose story helped inspire Stuart Eizenstat to begin his investigation; Robert H. Mnookin, Chair of the Program on Negotiation Steering Committee; Jamil Mahuad, former President of Ecuador; and six of the seven original founders of the Program on Negotiation, which is currently celebrating its 20-year anniversary.

Past recipients of the Program on Negotiation Great Negotiator Award include Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations’ Special Envoy for Afghanistan (2002), Charlene Barshefsky, US Trade Representative in the second Clinton administration (2001), and Former Senator George Mitchell, for his work in Northern Ireland (2000).

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