Sherman: The President may lead us down a path to conflict

Sherman: The President may lead us down a path to conflict
ID : N-1828 Date : 2018/05/23 - 15:06

(Persia Digest) – According to the New Yorker, Wendy Sherman could fairly be called the architect of the Iran agreement. She led the US in six rounds of talks with Iran and other nations and she has also had first-hand experience of diplomacy with the North Koreans. She spoke with Susan Glasser from the New Yorker in Washington.

You can read the transcript by Persia Digest here:

Q: The Iran deal in many ways was the capstone of what you were doing in the US government. Of course, many people saw it as the signature achievement of President Obama’s story. I want you to take people a little bit inside the arduous, painstaking, at times I’m sure makes you want to scream, agonizing slow progress that took years of your life and many other people it took to get to this deal. So, let’s talk about how on earth you made it?

A: I tease that I negotiated inside the administration, I negotiated with the US Congress, I negotiated with think-tankers in Washington, I negotiated of course with my inter-agency colleagues, I negotiated with Israel, with the Persian Gulf States, with everybody who had a stake in Iranian oil and Iranian business in the world, and yes, occasionally I negotiated with Iran. It is an incomplex process if you do it correctly and you indeed have to be ready to walk away from the table. John Kerry, who of course led this, and towards the end with Secretary Moniz from the Department of Energy, who joined us and brought extraordinary technical expertise; I did this with a core team of fifteen, but there were hundreds, literally hundreds in the US administration. Secretary Kerry was ready to walk away from this several times during the negotiations as was I, but at the end of the day we got a deal.

Q: You then had President Trump almost from the very beginning, when he was just a candidate, saying this is the worst deal ever. You had enormous resistance in Congress from Republicans in the Senate from the very beginning; they were publicly undermining you. You had Tom Cotton for example, the Arkansas Senator who has emerged as a close advisor to Donald Trump, organizing a letter of his colleagues right in the middle of your negotiations basically saying “don’t take them seriously; we are going to undo this”. How seriously did you take that as a possibility when you were negotiating it that it might not stick?

A: Well, we certainly knew that was a possibility and my Iranian counterparts would constantly say to me how do we know you won’t undo the deal, and I said there is no way to know that; just like there is no way for me to know that you won’t undo the deal. The deal has to be as good as it possibly can be, so it is durable and sustainable.

Q: That’s interesting though. They were pressing you, saying America might not be good at it. Is American good for its word?

A: Absolutely. Well, you know; we are as good as our word, as our politics allow us to be, as it is true for Iran; it is true for any country.

Q: So, you broke your nose one day during the negotiations. That reminds me of when my son had a concussion at science camp. How did you break your nose while negotiating. I trust they didn’t punch you.

A: No, no, no. So, what happened was, the US delegation room was on the top floor of the Palais Coburg in Vienna and we had secured communications equipment there. The elevator opened up into a foyer and then into the last conference room. And generally, the glass door was kept open; I was rushing to get a secured conference call with Secretary Kerry at about 11pm one evening. That door, however, was closed. I hadn’t paid any attention. I went smack into that glass door, blood all over the place, some of my male colleagues said call for an ambulance, get someone here immediately.

     I said clearly none of you are mothers. When your kid bloodies their nose, there is a lot of blood; so get me an ice pack; I put the ice pack on; a lot of Kleenex; had the conference call with Secretary Kerry. He didn’t find out about this until months later. I had a CT scan the next day and went to an ear, throat, and nose doctor in Vienna. He walked out and said in English “shit happen”. So, we packed up my nose. I used a lot of good makeup and went on with my work.

Q: You have heard over and over again, President Trump and those who are in line with him call it the worse deal ever, a terrible deal, an awful deal. You heard it at the time. Have you re-thought any aspects of this in the wake of where we are now?

A: Look, the President and the opponents now have said it didn’t cover ballistic missiles, it doesn’t cover various actions; but what everyone needs to understand is when you are in the midst of a negotiation, the deal is 110 pages long; it is filled with technical detail. If we had had all of those other issues on the table, which of course Iran was not willing to negotiate, but say they were; if you had them all on the table, it means Iran would say OK, I’ll do something here on the missiles, but it means I’ll do something more here on the centrifuges, or I want to keep this underground facility for enrichment. So you are negotiating against yourself on the thing that matters the most, and that is Iran never being able to obtain a nuclear weapon. Because, as bad as what they are doing in the region is now, if they had a nuclear weapon they would have the ability to project power and deterring our actions and our allies’ actions and our partners’ actions, would be profound.

     So, why would you have a negotiation where you would negotiate trade between a nuclear program and other issues. We needed to get the nuclear weapons off the table, all of the sanctions remained on their ballistic missiles, on their arms dealing, on their human rights, on what they are doing in the region. And, quite frankly, efforts to get Americans who still remain in Iran, detained and missing in Iran, we need to have that part of our negotiating frame going forward as well. There are ways one can do that. But if you have them all on the table, one gets negotiated against the other and that is not in our national security interest.

Q: Do you have any sense that the Europeans are willing to keep going forward with what seems to be clearly not a real process?

A: The Europeans have been saying that they want to keep the deal together up against the US. I think that is going to be very difficult to do. I applaud them for trying, because I believe that the deal is in our national security interest. You know, at the end of the day, this is about what will keep America secure, and for the life of me I have never figured out how allowing Iran to go back to enriching uranium and obtaining weapons-grade plutonium to build a nuclear weapon is in our national security interest. But, somehow the President seems to believe that it is, and John Bolton is national security advisor.

     Secretary Pompeo, although he wants to try now and be a diplomat, he is still a hardliner when it comes to Iran, and it appears that the President may lead us down a path toward conflict with Iran and the world. that is not a good outcome for the US and in the short to medium term, Iran getting back to the possibility of getting a nuclear weapon is certainly not in our national security interest. So, quite frankly, none of this makes any sense in terms of America security; it only makes sense in the sense that the President said he was going to do this.

Q: So, have you kept up with the Iranians that you spent months and months locked in a room with?

A: I have. You know, when you make diplomatic relationships, you don’t give them away and so I have, as many Americans have, seen Foreign Minister Zarif when he is in the US.

Q: And he was here right before President Trump’s decision.

A: He was. I did see him. When I see him, I represent as a patriotic American that he should do whatever he can to stop the malign behavior in the Middle East, that it doesn’t help for holding on to this deal, that he should continue the compliance to the deal that the IAEA has confirmed 11 times in this case. So, when we are true to what is in America’s national security interest. This isn’t about politics; this is about our national security interest.

Q: Well, of course, unfortunately it has become so politicized that even a conversation is now interpreted in different ways depending on which team you are on. But, I am interested in putting aside the politics. You saw Javad Zarif; you’ve presumably talked with other Iranians as well in the run up to this. What are they telling you? What do they make of it? Did they have a realistic assessment in your view of President Trump?

A: I think they had a realistic assessment. But, just after this decision, FM Zarif went to China and Moscow. He met with the European leaders in Brussels along with the EU. Certainly, Zarif is a non-stop in trying to find a way forward here. But I want to make sure to make one really important point. National security advisor Bolton has said that the Iran deal has to end; because, even though the IAEA said there was compliance, he didn’t believe that it was infallible compliance. I would say to the national security advisor Bolton how in God’s name can any verification monitoring for North Korea be infallible?

Q: I can’t think of almost anyone else who would have this unique set of experiences in the room – intensively in the room – with both the North Koreans and the Iranians. You and Secretary Madeleine Albright actually traveled to Pyongyang and you met this current Kim Jeong Hoon’s father as part of that. At that time, you are Secretary Madeleine Albright’s councilor, you are a very close advisor to her. You two are still working together all these years later today; so, is there a North Korean style of negotiating and is it different than the Iranian style of negotiating?

A: I see N Korea’s approach to negotiating as pretty transactional. In that way, they’re a little bit like the President in that everything is possible and up for sale, up for leverage. Iran is a very complex negotiator. They are a negotiator of resistance, which is the mantra of their country, just as in N Korea the mantra is self-reliance and one has to understand those cultural frames for negotiations. Iranians are superb negotiators, very tough, very patient; see all the pieces on the table and so it is a very complex kind of negotiating style – somewhat different from N Koreans.

Q: So how do see this hitting the Iranian economy and will we ever be talking directly to Iran again?

A: I certainly think it will have an impact on the Iranian economy. It is interesting, the IRCG, which is the sole responsible for what is happening in the ME, in Iran’s presence in the ME, was never for the Iran deal, because they had the corner on the black market when sanctions were in place. So I think they would be ecstatic now that all the gloves are off. Rouhani is trying to keep the deal together. I call Rouhani the hardliner and I call IRGC the hard hardliners. So I think the hard hardliners are going to win out here. That’s not good for the future of Iran; that’s not good for the future of the US and that gives me great concern and great pause.

Q: Thank you so much Ambassador Wendy Sherman.


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