After Russia amassed 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders in what appeared to be preparations for an invasionthe Biden administration sent one of its top diplomats to speak with his Russian counterpart to try to dissuade Moscow from a full scale war.
Wendy R. Sherman, Assistant Secretary of State, met with Sergei A. Ryabkov at the US mission in Geneva in January 2022. Mr. Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, left during lunch and returned demanding that the United States respond in writing to draft treaties on security issues that his country had previously submitted.
The documents had not been a start for President Biden, and Ms. Sherman realized then that Mr. Ryabkov’s demands were a cover for an inevitable war.
“We knew we were going to go out to the races,” he said in an interview Thursday night.
In an email to State Department employees Friday morning, Ms. Sherman announced her retirement, 30 years after setting foot in the agency’s headquarters for her first diplomatic job and while the United States is embroiled in the most important military campaign in europe since World War II. She plans to leave her job on June 30.
Ms. Sherman, 73, has been a fixture in foreign policy circles in Washington and capitals around the world as the go-to diplomat for tough negotiations with America’s rivals and adversaries: Iran. , North Korea, Russia and, mostly recently, China.
Along the way, Ms. Sherman became a role model for women in foreign policy institutions. She was the first woman to serve as assistant secretary of state and, under the Obama administration, as assistant secretary for political affairs, the Third place post in the Department of State. He has worked in three Democratic administrations and under five secretaries of state. In her work as an undersecretary alone, she has visited 39 countries.
“For many of us, particularly as senior women in national security, there are very few more effective or consistent leaders in foreign policy in recent memory, and then add even fewer women,” said Suzy George, chief of staff for the Department of Foreign Affairs. Been and associated with Ms. Sherman since 1995.
Warren M. Christopher, the first secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, selected Ms. Sherman, who was working at a media consulting firm at the time, for her first State Department job, as deputy secretary of state. for legislative matters. Later, under Madeleine Albright, the first Secretary of State, Ms. Sherman worked on the Israel-Palestine negotiations and the North Korea talks. She accompanied Ms. Albright to Pyongyang on the first visit to North Korea by a US Secretary of State.
Arguably his most difficult diplomatic task was leading US negotiators in talks with Iran over a nuclear deal during the Obama administration. In 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a final agreement, which imposed limits on Iran’s nuclear program but was attacked by Republican politicians for what they said was a failure to address certain military activities. President Donald J. Trump backed out of the deal in 2018, which Iran had been complying with.
In Ms. Sherman’s current role, she has been the point person in the State Department on China policy. She has had to balance competing priorities: working with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to maintain channels of communication while countering China’s policies around the world. She flew to Tianjin in 2021 to meet with Wang Yi, then foreign minister, and men in white hazmat suits escorted Ms. Sherman and her colleagues to a hotel.
When the Pentagon detected a chinese spy balloon Drifting over the United States this year, Ms. Sherman called in a Chinese diplomat to conduct a demarche.
“She is kind of the iron lady of American diplomacy,” said Cho Hyun-dong, the South Korean ambassador in Washington, adding that Ms. Sherman had played a “very constructive role” in helping improve relations. relations between your country and Japan.
Jonathan Finer, the top deputy national security adviser, said Ms. Sherman was the Biden administration’s default diplomat to send “difficult talks to difficult places.”
Mr. Finer and Mrs. Sherman visited Kyiv in January, but it wasn’t her first time in Ukraine: In a picture in front of her desk in Washington, she is laying flowers in Kiev’s Maidan Square in 2014, where security forces under a pro-Russian president shot dozens of dead. of peaceful protesters. .
In August, Mrs. Sherman visited the solomon islands with Caroline Kennedy, the ambassador to Australia. One of the goals was to signal US commitment to a region China is making inroads into. But Ms. Sherman was also on a personal mission: The occasion was the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, an iconic World War II fight in which her father, a Marine, was wounded. She wore her green military cap on the trip and brought it with her to a podium when she gave a speech.
“It was a very, very powerful moment,” Ms. Sherman said. “I landed on the same airstrip from which the Marines fought in World War II, and I landed on a plane marked United States of America.”