Wendy Sherman reflects on diplomatic career in new book

Wendy Sherman, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and chief U.S. negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal, discusses her decades-long career in the State Department and her role in negotiating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in a new book titled “Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power, and Persistence”.

The following are some excerpts and notable highlights: 

“My father had come to Judaism late in life,” Sherman writes about her Jewish background. “He had been spurred to explore his faith by his marriage to my mother, Miriam, but he only embraced it after the death of his sister, who, like their father, killed herself before reaching midlife… Never having been bar mitzvahed, my father never felt fully accepted as a Jew, Nevertheless, he found serenity in the ritual of prayer, and I cherished sitting all day with him in High holiday services.”

Summarizing her work on foreign affairs in the State Department, Sherman writes that while one of the greatest moments of her professional pride was when she became the first woman to serve as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Obama Administration, she was disappointed that her hope to make history by getting appointed as the first woman Deputy Secretary of State, when Bill Burns announced his retirement in 2014, was dashed.

Sherman recounts the moment John Kerry informed her that she will not be getting the position. “On a Friday, the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Secretary Kerry called me to his office. The president, he informed me, had decided on Tony [Blinken].” Sherman took the news very hard, breaking into tears – “part out of anger, part out of sorrow” – as she packed up to go home to the final meal before the Yom Kippur fast and for evening services at the synagogue. “I spent the holiday in mourning,” she writes.

Sherman found her inner peace when she got her wish to at least serve as acting deputy until Blinken got confirmed by the Senate. She also found comfort in the fact that by not getting this top position at the State she got to serve chief negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal, which she calls “one of the singular accomplishments” of her time at Foggy Bottom.

Sherman writes she was also pleased when the Jerusalem Post placed her in fourth place in its 2015 list of “most influential Jews in the world,” ahead of GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. But she also found it “particularly painful” that some members of the Jewish community in the U.S. and abroad “could not see the necessity for that deal that I saw.”

On the Obama Administration’s push to get Senate approval of the Iran nuclear deal: “Our biggest fish was Schumer,” Sherman writes about her personal effort to convince Jewish leaders and Democratic Senators to support the JCPOA. Sherman and Kerry “consoled” themselves that their effort might have muted Schumer’s opposition to the deal.

On Bibi’s 2015 speech to Congress: “The speech could not but throw a grenade into the process. Netanyahu’s appearance didn’t help with Democratic Senators and Representatives who had significant numbers of Jewish constituents. New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Maryland’s Ben Cardin never did back the deal.”

Sherman also describes a behind the scenes moment in the relationship between Netanyahu and former President Bill Clinton ahead of the signing ceremony of the Wye River Memorandum in 1998. Sherman, at the time, worked in the State Department as Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. “‘At the last minute, Prime Minister Netanyahu made a play to gain the release of Jonathan Pollard… As we were finalizing the Wye River Memorandum, the formal document of what had been agreed, Netanyahu insisted that President Clinton had told him that the final agreement would include Pollard’s release. Clinton was adamant that he’d made no such promise. Faced with walking away from the hard-fought session with nothing to show for it, Netanyahu folded.”

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