Biden taps former lead Iran negotiator for deputy secretary of state

Sherman played a key role in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Another sign the Biden administration intends to return to the JCPOA.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday announced that Wendy Sherman, one of the key negotiators of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, will become deputy secretary of state – another indication that the Biden Administration is putting an emphasis on reversing President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the controversial agreement.

Sherman served in the Obama administration under then Secretary of State John Kerry as the under secretary for political affairs, and was the lead American negotiator in the talks leading to the nuclear deal that was vigorously opposed at the time by Israel.

Sherman opposed the Trump administration’s May 2018 exit of the agreement. She said withdrawing made things worse. In May 2019, in an interview with PBS NewsHour, she appeared to side with Iran against the U.S., saying that “I wish the Trump administration were as measured in its approach” as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

After leaving politics when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, she became the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. Sherman is also a senior counselor at the Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington-based private firm run by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that according to its website advises “the world’s leading commercial and financial organizations.”

While her boss Kerry was pursuing his failed attempt at speed-brokering a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Sherman was assigned to be the chief negotiator in the bid to get Iran to stop what was widely perceived to be their program to build nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fiercely opposed the Iran Nuclear Deal, citing its many shortcomings and the fact that when the deal expired in 2030 it left Iran free to enrich uranium to weapons grade material with no restrictions.

One of the larger holes in the agreement dealt with inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites by the UN’s watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which Iran had repeatedly blocked from accessing suspected nuclear sites to confirm the Iranians were not violating international laws.

Obama national security advisor Ben Rhodes claimed the agreement had “an incredibly intrusive inspections regime,” but Sherman’s negotiating team agreed to an Iranian demand that the Islamic Republic be given a 24-day heads up to prepare for any “surprise” inspections.

Charles Duelfer, former special advisor to the Director of the CIA for weapons of mass destruction called the concession on surprise inspections one of the “fatal flaws” in the Iran nuclear deal. Given Iran’s long history of stonewalling IAEA inspectors, Israel was outraged by the concession while Sherman told reporters in July, 2015 that 24-days was for her a “very, very short time.”

Sherman may also have a credibility problem in dealing with the Israeli government if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wins the upcoming March elections. In September of 2019 Sherman tweeted that the “Israel PM [is] out for himself.”

It’s not known yet if Sherman will have any input on the Israel-Palestinian issue, but last September she offered qualified congratulations on the Abraham Accords, which saw Israel sign breakthrough peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. (It later inked deals with Sudan and Morocco.)

Sherman tweeted she was “glad for the agreements between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain but neither @realDonaldTrump nor @IsraeliPM mentioned the Palestinians…”

However, on the same day as Sherman’s tweet Trump said he expected the Palestinians “will come to the table, 100 percent,” while Netanyahu praised Trump’s “realistic vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”