Wendy Sherman, one of the most powerful diplomats in the world, is known as the Silver Fox because of her snow-white mane and cunning bargain-making style.
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This Wednesday he participated in the talks between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia in Europe.
Sherman, the Under Secretary of State for EE.UU., met with Russian officials this week to discuss Ukraine. The stakes are high.
President Vladimir Putin has deployed around 100,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, raising fears of an incursion and warnings from the West.
US officials hope to defuse the tense situation through negotiations with the Russians, and Sherman is in his sauce.
Admiration and fear
Known in Washington for her fastidious nature, she has a history of tackling difficult issues head-on.
Under Bill Clinton, he tried to strike a deal with the North Koreans that was designed to halt their efforts to build nuclear weapons.
In 2011, he took the lead in team US nuclear talks with Iran while President Barack Obama was in office. He then helped craft a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and the P5 + 1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany) in 2015.
(While the deal has had its ups and downs since then, talks to save it and get Iran to comply with it again began in May, after US President Joe Biden took office.)
At the time, Sherman spoke about how being a woman was not a barrier to her progress in the negotiating room even though the Islamic Republic of Iran has strict rules on interactions between men and women.
“When I sat in front of the Iranians, I was the United States of America and maybe as a woman I can say some things that don’t seem so harsh. But when I get tough and lose my way, it makes a great impression because it is unexpected.“, He said.
Sherman, 72, has pale skin and cropped steel gray hair, and despite the strenuous nature of negotiations, she always looks good. “Never a hair out of place,” says a British diplomat who has worked with her during international negotiations.
She received her nickname from the Iranians, who began associating her with a fox due to her “deceptive” approach to their conversations. His colleagues at the State Department accepted the nickname and during negotiations wore T-shirts that read “Silver Fox.”
His colleagues at the State Department say they look at her with admiration and sometimes with a little fear while she participates in international discussions.
“She’s fast,” says James Jeffrey, a former US ambassador to Turkey who has observed Sherman during his diplomatic work. “And it’s very intense.”
He developed his diplomatic skills in an unusual way: After studying at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, he helped children in Baltimore who needed foster care.
As a social worker in the 1980s, she became frustrated with the effort to save abused children, so she became a community organizer to change the system. She was hired as the director of a state child welfare office and developed a reputation as a political operator.
A few years later she joined the Clinton administration and became the first Under Secretary for Political Affairs.
This week you will put your skills to the test.
Negotiations with the Russians have been particularly grueling, analysts say, and you’ll need all the diplomatic tricks you can muster to achieve your goals: prevent a major war in Europe.
She spoke with Russian officials, a group that includes Sergei Ryabkov, one of the deputy foreign ministers, in Geneva on Monday. He spoke to the Russians again on Wednesday at the NATO meeting in Brussels, and in Vienna he will do so on Thursday.
The Russians have a list of demands: US officials must accept that they will not expand NATO forces eastward. The Russians also want US officials to rule out the possibility that Ukraine might one day join NATO.
Negotiations between US and Russian officials have reached a dead end. “We were firm,” she told reporters after their talks in Geneva, describing how she and the other US officials stood up to the Russians.
Sherman’s idea is to convince Moscow to “de-escalate the situation” in Ukraine and “choose the path of diplomacy,” the American said after the NATO meeting.
But the dialogue, for now, only shows “a high number of disagreements on fundamental issues,” declared another of Russia’s deputy foreign ministers, Alexander Grushko.
The discussions in Europe have been challenging for both parties, American and Russian officials. Ryabkov said his conversations with Sherman were helpful and encouraging.
“The talks were difficult, long, very professional, deep, concrete, with no attempt to overlook some sensitive topics.”