The Jerusalem Post
Sherman: Geopolitics in 2021 are different from 2015
The Biden administration is interested in rejoining the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, but it is impossible to return to the starting gate, because the world has changed in the six years since the deal was first signed, deputy secretary of state nominee Wendy Sherman said on Wednesday.
Speaking during her confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she said that the Biden-Harris administration wants to get back into the deal, “but to make it longer and stronger” and to use it as a platform to have negotiations on all areas of concern. It should be part of a comprehensive strategy and ensure that Iran will not create a nuclear weapon, Sherman said.
She previously served as the undersecretary of state under the Obama administration and negotiated the JCPOA.
“We are in a very different place, the geopolitics are different” in 2021 compared to 2015, Sherman added.
Among the regional shifts she referenced were the four normalization deals the former Trump administration had brokered between Israel and four Arab states.
These normalization deals with Israel were “a good thing,” and they have “changed the geopolitics of the region, and that means that one has to think of this in a different way because there are different elements on the table,” she said.
Sherman also reconfirmed that the Biden administration would be consulting with Israel and the Gulf states with respect to Iran.
“My understanding of what the Biden-Harris administration hopes to do is to get Iran to come back into full compliance with the deal,” she said. “And then we would be in compliance with the deal, and we would build from that, to get a longer and stronger agreement given that the deal is now some years old.”
Sherman went on to say that Iran has now increased its stockpile, increased the depth of its enrichment, increased many of its capabilities, using more sophisticated centrifuges, as a result of the US leaving the agreement.
“We would not only get back to where we were, but we would build a better, stronger, longer platform,” she continued.
“And then, we would address the other issues of concern,” Sherman noted.
She said that a one-year breakout time is critical, “because it allows us, if for some reason, Iran is able to cheat, though there were the most extraordinary verification and monitoring mechanisms, we would have time to snap back on sanctions or even to take military action. So we would maintain all of our options to ensure that Iran did not obtain a nuclear weapon.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he recognizes that the maximum pressure campaign costs Iran financially, “but
it didn’t meet the goals that I think we collectively want.”
He also asked Sherman if she believes that a nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to Israel, and she answered with affirmation.
“I appreciate the phrase ‘stronger and longer,’” Menendez said. “I get what longer means. [As of] stronger, I’m hoping for definition, because the reality is if all we do is return to the JCPOA, that certainly isn’t ‘stronger.’”
“And if we extend it, it might be longer, but it’s not stronger, because there are still sunset issues that are now more prevalent today than they were in 2016 when the agreement went into effect,” he continued. “And so it also will not have dealt with the ballistic missiles. It will not have dealt with the destabilization of the region. It will not have dealt with its support for terrorism, or the violation of its own people’s human rights. And so, the question in my mind is not so much JCPOA. The question in my mind is what is ‘JCPOA plus’ or what is it that we do.”
WHILE SHERMAN testified in Congress, Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave his first foreign policy speech since taking office. He singled out the US relationship with China as the main overseas focus of the Biden administration, saying that this posed “the biggest geopolitical test” of this century.
In a speech at the State Department, Blinken sought to set out how foreign policy will bring benefits for American workers and families, which is key to the new administration’s approach.
China was the only nation that Blinken said was one of eight priorities, which also included working to avoid another global pandemic, tackling climate change and promoting democracy abroad.
China is the only country with the power to seriously challenge the US’s ability to shape the global system of “rules, values and relationships,” he said.
“Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be,” Blinken affirmed.
Israel is working to set up a rapid testing system to allow those who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus, including children, to receive a green pass, Public Health Services head Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis told the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee.
“We now have thousands of new cases every day, if we flood the system with tests so that people can enter places, it will crash,” Alroy-Preis said. “While it is not possible at this stage, we are working as hard as we can to enable rapid tests.”
The official added that five companies offering the service have already received regulatory approval and the Health Ministry is going to propose an outline for venues and businesses to welcome customers who activate a green pass after purchasing and undergoing a test.
At the moment, gyms, hotels, cultural and sports events are reserved for green pass holders, and starting from Sunday also restaurants and event halls are going to resume activities under the green pass system.
“We do not want to force people to get vaccinated by manipulation and we do want not to separate families,” Alroy-Preis explained.
Also on Wednesday, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash said that Israel might need to enter a fourth lockdown before the general election on March 23.
“We will have to see the data in the next couple of weeks. It’s definitely a possibility that we will recommend a fourth lockdown before the election,” he said in an interview on 103FM radio.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the R (reproduction) rate – which measures the average number of people whom each person carrying the coronavirus will infect – rose once again to 1, as the country prepared for the third phase of the exit strategy from the current lockdown.
While the new round of openings is consistent with the timeline suggested by the Health Ministry at the end of January, health officials have expressed concern over the government’s choice to move forward with the full plan, in light of numbers that they do not find as reassuring as they would have hoped. Some
have indicated that the decisions have been influenced by political considerations for the upcoming March 23 elections.
“The closer we get to the election, the harder it is to maintain professional management,” Tomer Lotan, a senior official in the ministry told Army Radio.
After dropping for several days, the R rate started to climb up again at the end of last week, standing at 1 on Monday, down to 0.97 on Tuesday, and then rising again on Wednesday.
The situation is especially dire in the Arab sector, where the R stood at 1.12. The sector is also the one with the lowest vaccination rate – with just 67% of people over 50 inoculated and 31% of all ages. In the general population, the rates stand at 89% and 58%, respectively.
Maintaining the R rate at 1 or below is one of the criteria that the ministry has set as a condition for relaxing restrictions, together with the number of people fully vaccinated and the number of patients in serious conditions. These latter figures have been steadily improving.
According to a ministry report, as of Wednesday, some 4.8 million Israelis had been vaccinated with one dose and 3.5 million with both.
The number of patients in serious condition dropped to 717, some 224 of whom were on ventilators.
Another 4,348 new coronavirus infections were identified in the previous 24 hours, with 4.8% of the 91,000 tests returning a positive result.
The death toll rose to 5,802. Also on Wednesday, the ministry published the new scores under the traffic light program which regulates which cities are allowed to open schools.
Some localities, including Dimona, Lod, Tiberias, and Beitar Illit will need to resume remote learning starting from Sunday due to an increase in morbidity. Among the towns where students will go back to school is Kiryat Malachi.
When the scores come into effect, grades 7-10 will also return in person in green, yellow and light orange cities where the vaccination rate of people over 50 is above 70%.
Of 2.4 million students, an additional 500,000 will return to school for the first time in months, bringing the total number of students learning in person to 1.8 million. Some 400,000 will remain at home.