Senate confirms Iran deal negotiator Wendy Sherman as deputy secretary of state

Confirmation comes amid renewed tensions with Iran and efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into the 2015 agreement

US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 3, 2013, before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 3, 2013, before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

The US Senate on Tuesday confirmed the nomination Wendy Sherman, a chief US negotiator for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as deputy secretary of state.

Sherman’s nomination to become Anthony Blinken’s number two passed by a vote of 56-42 and comes at a time of heightened tensions between Israel and Iran, and renewed talks between Washington and Tehran to reenter the nuclear deal.

Currently a senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group and a professor of public leadership and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, Sherman served as undersecretary for political affairs in the Obama administration from 2011 to 2015.

She was initially a favorite to become Biden’s UN ambassador, a position he ended up giving to longtime diplomat and former assistant secretary of state for African affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Working with then-deputy secretary of state Blinken, Sherman was a key architect of the Iran nuclear deal, which exposed her to criticism from parts of the pro-Israel establishment in Washington.

Invoking her own Judaism, she has described the dissent the Obama administration faced over the multilateral accord from the American Jewish community as the most “painful” part of its efforts to push the deal through.

Sherman began her career in politics working as chief of staff for then-congresswoman Barbara Mikulski, a prominent pro-Israel voice on Capitol Hill until her retirement in 2017.

She will come back into the State Department with Iran high on the agenda.

The White House said Tuesday it remains committed to nuclear negotiations with Tehran despite the Islamic Republic’s “provocative” statement that it will ramp up uranium enrichment, amid high tensions in the Middle East and alleged tit-for-tat attacks between Israel and Iran.

“We are certainly concerned about these provocative announcements,” Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters.

“We believe that the diplomatic path is the only path forward here and that having a discussion, even indirect, is the best way to come to a resolution,” she said.

The meeting came as a flurry of escalations in Iran and at sea threatened to derail ongoing talks aimed at rescuing Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal. The Biden administration opened indirect talks with Iran over the deal last week.

From left, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second from right, at a hotel in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, June 27, 2015. (Carlos Barria/Pool via AP)

The nuclear talks in Vienna were set to resume Wednesday, but Russia’s ambassador to the UN said they had been postponed by a day. Russia is a signatory of the deal.

On Tuesday, Iran said it was stepping up uranium enrichment to an unprecedented 60 percent and installing new centrifuges in response to a Sunday attack on its Natanz nuclear facility, which it has blamed on Israel. Washington has denied any involvement. The 60% step will bring Iran closer to the 90 percent purity threshold for military use and shorten its potential “breakout time” to build an atomic bomb.

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