SOVIET diplomat Victor Issraelyan learned to negotiate during ``the shouting days'' of the late 1950s, when John Foster Dulles represented the United States at the United Nations. But today he advocates keeping the diplomatic decibel level down. To practice what he preaches, Mr. Issraelyan last month met with Roger Fisher, a soft-spoken negotiation expert at Harvard University.
And, in what amounts to another in a series of dizzying ``firsts'' for the Soviets, he helped conclude a deal to bring Dr. Fisher and a Harvard team to the Soviet Union next month to teach two dozen mid-career Russian diplomats new Western ideas on negotiation, communication, and consensus building.
``This is the first such experience in the history of Soviet diplomacy,'' says Issraelyan, who, after a 25-year career at the UN, is now an instructor at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, where the five-day workshop will take place. ``It's a reflection of a changing world, the origins of which go deeper than just the personalities of Reagan or Gorbachev,'' he said in an interview.
Fisher, founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, will conduct the workshops. He is co-author of the best seller ``Getting to Yes,'' which stresses finding and magnifying common interests between differing parties.
``We're going to talk about joint problem-solving,'' says Harvard team member Robert Risigliano. ``Negotiators typically see themselves as adversaries or soldiers in a cause. We aren't saying don't look to self-interest - but how do you deal best when interests conflict?''
The plan to conduct a workshop in Moscow went through at light speed: Harvard proposed in October; Deputy Soviet Foreign Minister Vladimir Petrofsky agreed in January.
The image of Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on a table at the UN may linger as the epitome of Soviet diplomacy, in Western eyes. But over the past five to eight years, says Issraelyan, there has been a growing trend among the younger generation of Soviet diplomats to be less rigid and tough. His students in their 20s, for example, ``prefer communication to confrontation; they want businesslike, friendly relations with Americans and Europeans.''
He is an unassuming man - so burnished by endless diplomacy that the very air seems to part cordially when he walks in the room. He is devoted to perestroika - which has allowed officials to be more critical both inside and outside the Soviet system.
``I unfortunately am a member of the generation of Stalin, and worked during the period of stagnation with [Leonid] Brezhnev.
``As a career diplomat and a member of the party, I had to implement the political line of the party. But I must confess many times I felt unhappy over our methods, steps, and actions - especially in arms control, especially our policy in verification issues. Our on-site inspection policy was ridiculous.'' (For decades, the Soviets refused to consider such inspections - a significant feature of the recent Soviet-US INF Treaty.)
Such comments may not be mere public relations, says Marshall Goldman, a noted Soviet expert with the Russian Research Center at Harvard. ``It's a new world over there,'' says Professor Goldman. ``A lot of Soviets felt changes were needed and welcome the chance to criticize. I've started a new file called `foreign policy mistakes' that's filled with Soviet press clippings critical of military and economic policy.''
Issraelyan hopes the shouting days of US-Soviet relations are over. Exchanges will help develop the trust to do that, he feels: ``We were taught to see in the Americans the image of the enemy,'' he says. ``Not at a personal level. But the moment we sat down to negotiate, I felt I couldn't trust this man, and he doesn't trust me.''