TEL AVIV — In an impassioned defense of the recently implemented nuclear deal with Iran, Wendy Sherman, chief US negotiator of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), recounted Tuesday the personal pain she felt, as an American Jew, by the rancorous opposition of the Israeli government and a large part of the American Jewish community.
“For me personally, one of the most difficult parts was the tension with this beloved country and its people,” Sherman told participants at an annual security conference by the Tel Aviv University-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).
Sherman noted that going into the negotiations on behalf of US Secretary of State John Kerry and US President Barack Obama, she had three strikes against her vis a vis her Iranian interlocutors: “I was a woman, an American, and I was Jewish.
“So having the dissension and the difficulties that we had in this process — and with the American Jewish community of which I consider myself a part — was very, very painful.”
Addressing the mostly Israeli audience, Sherman distinguished between Israeli political opposition and the constructive input Washington received from Israeli technical experts, which she said served to improve the comprehensive accord signed last July.
“You should know your technical experts were extraordinary. They provided feedback on virtually every element of this deal. They argued with me. And it was great, because as a result, it helped us forge a better JCPOA and for that I’m eternally grateful.”
According to Sherman, now a senior fellow at both Harvard’s Institute of Politics and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, US administration officials from Obama on down understood the existential fear that many attached to the Iranian nuclear deal.
“I reminded myself every day that Israel must be all about security … that the history of my people, of the Jewish people, must be one of overcoming challenges to its existence.”
That said, Sherman insisted that the US negotiating team judged honestly that for the United States, for the world, and for Israel “an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a far greater threat than an Iran — as terrible as it is in any ways — without a nuclear weapon.”
Referencing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who continues to insist the JCPOA is a “very bad deal,” Sherman noted: “I consistently said publicly and privately and I’m repeating it here that of course, I respect the prime minister’s decision as the leader of his country.
“Only history will finally tell. But for my part, I do believe — and President Obama believes and Secretary Kerry believes that the JCPOA prevents Iran from having a nuclear weapon forever. And if they cheat, all the options that we have will remain completely available. Neither President Obama or any future president of the US will allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Period.”
Speaking on a panel following Sherman’s address, Jane Harman, a former nine-term Democratic member of Congress from California, said she was practically moved to tears by the former negotiator’s heartfelt candor.
“I hope you heard in Wendy’s voice the pain and difficulty of negotiating this deal. It almost made me cry … and I hope that everyone here appreciates how much effort she personally made ,whether they agree or not,” said Harman, now president and chief executive of the Washington-based Wilson Center.
“Remember, this is still not a popular agreement in the United States. … There are many in Congress in both parties who are enormously skeptical, and that’s an insurance policy. Congress is watching closely … and this will free up some brain cells to focus on Iran’s other problematic behaviors.”
As for specific Iranian actions verified in a Jan. 16 report by the International Atomic Energy Commission, which triggered implementation of the deal, Sherman ticked off immediate achievements:
“The IAEA confirmed that Iran disconnected or removed two-thirds of its installed centrifuge capacity, going from 19,000 before the JCPOA to 5,060. This includes termination of all uranium enrichment and all nuclear material from Fordow.
“It has reduced stockpiles of enriched uranium from 12,000 kilograms where it was when we reached the deal to no more than 300 kilograms … where it must stay for at least 15 years.
“It has removed the core of the Arak plutonium reactor and filled it with concrete so it is no longer usable. … And the IAEA now has 24/7 transparency measures in place, not just for a year, five years, 10 years or 25 years, but under the additional Protocol, forever as part of Iran’s [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] obligations.”
In a rebuttal to claims by Netanyahu and several US presidential candidates about a $150 billion windfall awarded to Iran, Sherman noted that in exchange for IAEA-verified Iranian actions, “no more than $55 billion” in sanctions have been released.
“This is Iranian money that has been frozen in international bank accounts all over the world, including some in the Gulf, and they will now have access to those funds. But just to get their refineries online will cost $150 billion, and to get their economy back on line will take hundreds of billions of dollars. That’s how far deep they are in the hole.”
Sherman insisted that non-nuclear-related sanctions such as those imposed by Obama over the weekend in response to Tehran’s ballistic missile test would persist.
“All our sanctions remain in place with regard to state sponsorship of terrorism, human rights abuses and missile related sanctions.”
Sherman practically implored the audience to move beyond the acrimony and forge new paths for US-Israel cooperation.
“Now our task is to work together for a stable Middle East. … We must be able to have our discussions directly and without rancor. We must be clear eyed with each other and draw conclusions upon which we can act together.”