WASHINGTON – America’s chief negotiator with Iran promised in a broadcast intended for Iranians that she will be a “fair, balanced” participant in talks over Tehran’s nuclear program, despite her comment this month that “deception is part of the DNA” among Iranians.
Facing criticism from hard-line news media and some lawmakers in Iran, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said Friday in an interview with Voice of America’s Persian Service that her comments reflected American distrust of the Iranian government that has built up since the breach in relations after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. But she insisted that she and others in the administration respect Iranians and believe the talks offer a path for both sides to improve mutual understanding.
Asked what she meant by the statement, Sherman said, “I think it referred specifically to what our history of mistrust has been.... I think these nuclear negotiations will help us get over that mistrust.”
Sherman’s words came Oct. 3 during an appearance in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in which she faced demands from lawmakers that the administration take a tough line in the new round of negotiations that began Oct. 15 in Geneva.
Sherman was urging Congress to hold off, while negotiations continue, on additional economic penalties against Iran for its controversial nuclear program. But she also argued that the administration is not naive about Iranian negotiators, who are legendary for a skilled and unyielding approach.
Conservative media in Iran that are skeptical about the new round of talks seized on the comment to argue that Iran cannot expect fair treatment. A few voices have called for Iran not to deal with Sherman, who is the State Department’s No. 3 official.
The government controlled Fars new agency, which is connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Sherman was “a symbol of anti-Iranian thinking” and asked, “Can a person who identifies deception as part of Iranian DNA be trusted?”
Sherman told the government-funded VOA that “there has been a misunderstanding about some testimony that I gave.” She acknowledged that the words have caused concern among Iranians and “even among some Iranian Americans.”
Yet “we have great respect for the Iranian people, for the history and civilization of Iran, for all the remarkable things from Persian culture we enjoy, including the rug at our feet today,” she said.
A veteran U.S. diplomat, Sherman has led the U.S. team during the six negotiating sessions with Iran and five other world powers that have taken place since the beginning of 2012. She led the U.S. nuclear negotiations with North Korea at the end of the Clinton administration.
A State Department representative said Sherman granted the interview as part of a new round of media appearance intended to better explain the administration’s position in the talks.
The comment was only one of a number of topics that Sherman wanted to discuss, the representative said. But “obviously it is an important issue to address. We don’t want any misperceptions” about Sherman’s desire to reach a deal in the talks, the representative said.