Challenges in Nuclear Nonproliferation: A Conversation with Ambassador Wendy Sherman
November 14th, 2018 12:00PM -1:30PM
In May 2018, Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, unraveling the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor Barack Obama. Join the World Affairs Council for a lunch discussion with the Iran deal’s lead U.S. negotiator, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, on the implications of the unilateral U.S. withdrawal the comprehensive nuclear agreement, reached by seven countries after more than two years of grueling negotiations, and what to expect in the U.S.-Iran relationship, the future of the Iranian nuclear program, and the implications for negotiations with North Korea.
Ambassador Wendy Sherman joined the World Affairs Council on November 14th for a discussion of how she negotiated the Iran Nuclear Deal and the the implications of U.S. withdrawal from the agreement. In her new book Not for the Faint of Heart Sherman discusses her experience in Washington as the first woman to be undersecretary of state, and how she used her skills of courage, power, and persistence negotiate with the Iranians.
The discussion began with Sherman talking about personal diplomacy, and how it can influence negotiations positively or negatively. Ambassador Sherman stated that while personal relationships are extremely important, they aren’t enough in negotiations. Referencing the recent summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, she argued that Trump has relied too much on having a relationship with North Korea whereas the United States needs to have detailed strategy, intelligence, defense, and sanctions in place to negotiate.
Ambassador Sherman stressed the need for common ground in any type of personal relationship whether in government or everyday life. She provided examples from her time as the lead Iran negotiator for the U.S. where she could not shake hands with her counterparts because of their conservative Muslim customs. Sherman decided to attempt to make common ground with her negotiators by explaining her upbringing in an orthodox Jewish community, where Orthodox men were also not allowed to shake her hand. This provided a common ground across two very different cultures, which created ease to carry on discussions.
Discussion quickly moved towards the Iran Nuclear Deal, the groundwork that led to the agreement, and what interpersonal skills Ambassador Sherman used with her counterparts. The Europeans had begun unsuccessful negotiations in the early 2000s with Iran before the United States began. The United States wanted widespread sanctions for Iranian behavior, support of terrorism, and need for nuclear weapons. The sanctions would not have stopped Iran from making nuclear weapons, but brought them to the negotiating table for discussions. Sherman recounted how she sent teams around the world to get countries to stop buying Iranian oil, and the negotiating tool that former President Obama commissioned as a threat to wipe out Iran’s main centrifuge center. A central component was managing the power of the United States as well as its allies to achieve the objective of negotiations. Ambassador Sherman reflected on her background skills as a social worker and how they allowed her to see the entire landscape surrounding the negotiations.
President Trump announced in May that the United States would not longer take part in the nuclear agreement, a deal he repeatedly criticized. Even with sanctions from the U.S. being put into place, Iran is still complying with the deal. Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian President, is still receiving economic benefits from Russia and China. Sherman stated that the Iranians likely think they can hold on to their economy until the next administration - but if President Trump stays in office Iran will likely want to come back to negotiations. Ambassador Sherman pointed out that no deal is perfect, but concessions must be made to reach a settlement.
When asked about North Korea, Sherman stated that a deal would be much more complex to negotiate. North Korea has more nuclear weapons, less negotiating leverage, and protection from China. While Sherman said she does not expect a full denuclearization right away from North Korea, but that the U.S. needs to know what kinds of weapons the country has in order to move forward. The discussion ended with Sherman stating that all things in life are connected, and that the relationships that the United States has with China and South Korea will impact the assistance we receive in negotiating with North Korea.
About the Speaker:
Wendy R. Sherman is Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. In January 2019, Ambassador Sherman will join Harvard Kennedy School as a Professor of the Practice in Public Leadership and Director of the School’s Center for Public Leadership. She serves on the boards of the International Crisis Group and the Atlantic Council, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Strategy Group. Ambassador Sherman led the U.S. negotiating team that reached agreement on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran for which, among other diplomatic accomplishments, she was awarded the National Security Medal by President Barack Obama.
Prior to her service at the Department of State, she was Vice Chair and founding partner of the Albright Stonebridge Group, Counselor of the Department of State under Secretary Madeleine Albright and Special Advisor to President Clinton and Policy Coordinator on North Korea, and Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs under Secretary Warren Christopher. Early in her career, she managed Senator Barbara Mikulski’s successful campaign for the U.S Senate and served as Director of EMILY’S list. She served on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, was Chair of the Board of Directors of Oxfam America and served on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board and Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism. Ambassador Sherman is the author of Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power and Persistence published by Public Affairs, September 2018.
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