There are lots of things one might call the belief that talking to Kim Il Jung or Assad will lead to their realizing that we have a common stake in reducing violence and bringing about a democratic Iraq. “Realistic” is hardly one of them. And yet it is now received wisdom among the elite that somehow talking to these people will make them come around.
If realism means anything it would seem to be the acceptance that other countries may not have your best interests at heart.
If you accept that you have conflicting interests you are in a bargaining situation, and the only real question is what costs and what benefits you can offer the other side for acceding to your wishes.
It is possible that there are some messages that have to be delivered in person, but the thing about imposing future costs is that they are usually costly to the nation imposing them as well as the nation imposed upon. In that case it might well be that agreeing to talks, particularly when the world is demanding it, might deliver exactly the wrong message. It might bespeak and unwillingness to bear up under international criticism, criticism that will surely be sharper in the face of delivering real costs—such as, say, a military strike—than they are in the case of simply not agreeing to sit down one on one with someone.
It may do more than send an unfortunate signal, it may send an unintended benefit. By sitting down to talk one on one with your adversary you are confering upon him a certain amount of legitimacy. By seeking another agreement you are in part letting him off the hook for trashing the last one.
Hitler's generals were said to have relaxed their opposition to his aggressive stance against France and Great Britain after Chamberlain agreed to direct talks with the Furher. Nothing increases a leaders stature like shaking hands with aonther world leader for the camera. American Presidents routinely go abroad to repair thier stature with the domestic public; it is a commonplace of political punditry that interacting with a foreign leader, any foreign leader, increases the president's domestic standing.
If it works for the leader of the free world when he meets leaders with far less power than he, imagine the effect on the standing of the leaders of lesser powers when they are seen on TV back home being greeted by the leader of the free world as an equal.