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Ambassador Wendy Sherman was the chief U.S. negotiator on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. She also visited North Korea twice during President Bill Clinton’s administration and met for hours with Kim Jong II, the current ruler’s father.
Before she became involved with foreign affairs and politics, Sherman was a social worker and community organizer — jobs that require skills she says can be essential for delicate diplomacy.
Ambassador Sherman talks with us about the current state of relations with Iran and Syria, what the U.S. must do about North Korea, and President Trump’s “America First” approach to foreign policy.
- Amb. Wendy Sherman Senior counselor, Albright Stonebridge Group; former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, U.S. Department of State; chief U.S. negotiator in the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement
Ambassador Sherman's Answers
That tomahawk attack was something that I supported—I think most people did—but you cannot take an attack like that in a vacuum. You have to have an overall strategy and it’s not clear to me beyond that tactical move what our Syria strategy is, what the President intends to do. And if in fact, there [will be] another attack besides another—quite frankly—pinprick attack (it didn’t destroy that base, it didn’t destroy that airfield they began using it again I think within 48 hours of the strike). So what are we doing? Yes, we are fighting ISIL in Syria as we should and as we must and we’re doing that in part because Iraq wants us to protect their border from ISIL coming back into Iraq. But what are we doing, both diplomatically to try to see if there is a way forward that is not about war, and what are we doing as a long-term strategy to end this fierce battle inside the country?
We were trying, at the end of the Clinton administration, to negotiate an end of testing of missiles because at that time there was an agreement that had kept their nuclear program in check for some time and they had no nuclear weapons at that time. We didn’t want them to develop missiles because then they would have a delivery system for the nuclear weapons. That’s what we’re very concerned about now, an intercontinental ballistic missile that could bring their nuclear weapons to the United States. So, I think that we need to go at this in a very clear-minded way, a very comprehensive way, a very disciplined way and my concern is that although President Trump has conducted a North Korea policy review, I see no evidence that there is any policy. And the one other thing I think it’s really important to mention is [that] this has gone to a whole new place because of the death of Otto Warmbier. There is just no way to give comfort to Otto’s family—what a despicable, horrific death.
I understand the concern [with the nuclear deal] and President Obama thought very carefully about this. We do have the capacity to bomb all their facilities. President Obama even commissioned and deployed a weapon that could penetrate the once underground facility called Fordow, which was an enrichment facility. But you can’t bomb away knowledge. The Iranians know how to do what they know how to do. So if you bomb away their facilities they could recreate them probably within two years, and they would likely do it underground and in secret. So military action is an option, it remains an option even today, but it won’t end their nuclear program. We could continue to use sanctions, but sanctions never stopped their nuclear program. When European began negotiating before the United States joined in the early 2000s, Iran had 164 centrifuges. Those are part of what you need to create this fissile material. By the time we were negotiating, even with the extraordinary sanctions, and effective sanctions we had on Iran, they had 19,000 centrifuges. So sanctions aren’t going to stop their program … I think this deal is a very good one to protect the United States, to protect the world, and to ensure that Iran can’t get a nuclear weapon.
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