Wendy Sherman, who has led American nuclear talks with Iran for the better part of two years, will resign her post after the June 30 deadline for a final deal, she told The New York Times on Wednesday.
“It’s been two long years,” she told the paper.
As undersecretary for policy, Sherman is the third-highest ranked official in the US State Department. She was brought to the job by Hillary Clinton, the predecessor to current Secretary of State John Kerry. Upon announcing her departure, she won high praise from administration leaders.
Sherman’s “mentoring of colleagues, her experience, her passion for diplomacy, her calm in the storm set her apart as a great under secretary of state,” Kerry said.
President Obama had “long counted on Wendy’s unique combination of intellect, toughness and persistence, which have made her one of the most effective diplomats of her generation,” according to a White House statement.
Sherman’s departure may leave behind a gap in experience and knowledge just as officials shift from negotiating a nuclear deal with Tehran to implementing it, according to some observers. Other key officials involved in the talks, including her predecessor William Burns who initiated the backchannel diplomacy with Iran two years earlier, have also left.
Burns praised Sherman on Wednesday for her ability to lead the complex multi-lateral talks between Iran and six world powers. “There were many moments when our own government, and our negotiating partners, were on different paths with the Iranians, and she was the one who always made sure there were no gaps.”
The effort to reach an accommodation with Iran over its nuclear program was “incredibly complex,” Sherman told the Times, “with the Congress, with the press, our negotiating partners — and then, when you are done with that, negotiating with the Iranians. And because we’re in the world of 24/7, if there was ever a time when you could aim a message to one audience and hope it was kept from another audience — well, that’s not possible, if it ever was.”
Sherman, who once worked on North Korea nuclear policy under the Clinton administration, does not lack for critics, especially among Republicans in Congress, where some noted that the North Korea talks resulted in a nuclear-armed dictatorship.