Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is retiring after decades of work in the foreign policy sphere, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Friday.
Sherman has taken the lead on multiple high-profile foreign policy issues, having served as the lead negotiator of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) during the Obama administration and leading the Biden administration’s China policy. CNN first reported Thursday that Sherman would be stepping down, although it was allegedly not going to take place until the summer.
Wendy Sherman retiring as deputy secretary of state. A major proponent of the Iran nuclear deal, and recently fought against penalties against China for Uyghur human rights abuses. pic.twitter.com/ivsbXrCeKK
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) May 12, 2023
Prior to serving as America’s second-ranking diplomat, Sherman was the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2011 to 2015, where she led the charge on the JCPOA. She also served as a North Korea policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and was Counselor of the State Department from 1997 to 2001.
Reuters reported Thursday that Sherman had taken the primary role in directing the State Department’s China policy under Blinken, and that there was dissent within the department about how Sherman handled China following the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) flying a spy balloon over the continental United States in February.
Blinken had been scheduled to make a high-profile visit to Beijing around the same time the balloon was discovered, but the administration canceled the trip due to “conditions” not being right. The State Department has maintained the trip was only postponed, not canceled, and that it will eventually be rescheduled in due course.
There had been a series of steps the administration was planning to take, from sanctions to export controls, in an attempt to counteract China prior to the spy balloon incident. But after the balloon was shot down and Blinken’s trip canceled, Sherman ordered the delay of those measures due to a concern about further undermining American relations with Beijing, Reuters reported, citing multiple sources in the department and internal emails it had reviewed. (RELATED: Obama’s Top Iran Negotiator May Have Had Personal Email Account Hacked While Negotiating Deal)
The Biden administration has generally taken a softer rhetorical approach to China than Beijing has taken toward Washington. Beijing’s top foreign policy officials often tout the CCP’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy strategy, which has led to baseless accusations toward the United States on every topic from human rights to foreign interference. Contrarily, the State Department, under the leadership of Blinken and Sherman, has consistently referred to China as a competitor rather than an adversary, and has emphasized areas where the U.S. would like to cooperate with the CCP.
“Wendy broke barriers as our first female Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and our first female Deputy Secretary of State. Her remarkable career – which spans more than three decades, three Presidents, and five Secretaries of State – addressed some of the toughest foreign policy challenges of our time,” Blinken said, thanking Sherman for her service to government. “Our nation is safer and more secure, and our partnerships more robust, due to her leadership.”