WASHINGTON – Wendy Sherman, the U.S. State Department’s chief nuclear negotiator, held talks 13 years ago with the leaders of one opaque, mercurial country prone to deception and rabidly anti-American rhetoric.
Those talks were ultimately a bust. This week she’ll hold talks with the leaders of another opaque, mercurial country prone to deception and rabidly anti-American rhetoric. The success of those new negotiations could spell the difference between a long-term peace and a perilous showdown — and give Sherman a rare second chance to prevent a U.S. adversary from getting a nuclear weapon.
Sherman, who was part of the U.S. team that negotiated with North Korea in the 1990s, heads the U.S. delegation that opened talks Tuesday in Geneva over the future of Iran’s nuclear program. Little known outside the State Department, Sherman faces the extraordinarily difficult task of determining whether the moderate tone of Iran’s new leader, Hassan Rowhani, means that Tehran is genuinely prepared to open its nuclear sites to inspection or is simply trying to wring concessions.
Sherman is a highly regarded diplomat. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said her former aide “had this amazing ability to separate fact from fiction. She basically served as my watchdog.”
Sherman has followed an unusual path to her post as the undersecretary of state for political affairs, the No. 3 position in the State Department. She studied sociology and urban studies in college and then got a master’s degree in social work. Her first jobs were in partisan politics and social work, not diplomacy. She was the director of EMILY’S List, which provides money to female, Democratic political candidates who support abortion rights, and she ran the successful Senate campaign of then-Rep. Barbara Mikulski. She also served as director of Maryland’s office of child welfare and CEO of the Fannie Mae Foundation, the charitable arm of the mortgage-lending giant.