Josh Rogin
Foreign Policy
September 7, 2011 - 12:00am

Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama's nominee for a top State Department post, told senators on Wednesday that the U.S. will surely veto a Palestinian request for recognition of statehood if it reaches the U.N. Security Council, seemingly getting out ahead of the Obama administration on the issue.

Sherman's remarks came toward the end of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in an exchange with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who pressed her to comment on the Palestinian Authority's plan to seek full member state status at the United Nations later this month.

"The administration has been very clear as well ... if any such resolution were put in front of the Security Council, that we would veto it," Sherman testified. She also said that the administration did not expect the issue to come up at the Security Council, as administration officials were working hard to seek an alternate path.

"So it sounds like you're very confident that the United States would remain committed with great resolve to the veto threat," Lee said, making sure he heard her correctly.

"The United States is very resolved to a veto threat in the Security Council. What we are very resolved about as well is urging the parties to enter into direct negotiations again," Sherman responded.

Sherman noted correctly in her testimony that the issue could be raised in the U.N. General Assembly, in which case the United States would not have a veto option.

In his May 19 speech on the Arab Spring, Obama said that symbolic Palestinian actions at the United Nations "won't create an independent state" and that efforts to delegitimize Israel "will end in failure."

State Department officials, however, have avoided promising a veto or making any other direct commitments on U.S. actions, although officials have said repeatedly that they don't believe the Palestinian strategy is a good idea or would be constructive in their drive for a peaceful two-state solution.

"We are going to continue to work right up till the U.N. General Assembly, if necessary, to get these parties back to the table, and we'll continue to work afterwards," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's briefing. "And as you know, we will continue to oppose any one-sided actions at the U.N. and we're making that clear to both sides."

Administration officials are ramping up their diplomacy on the issue this month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. Also, the National Security Council's Dennis Ross and Acting Special Middle East Envoy David Hale are in the Middle East and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and Abbas today.

"My understanding, from briefings I've had at the State Department, is there has been a very broad and very vigorous demarche of virtually every capital in the world, that this is high on the agenda for every meeting the secretary has with every world leader," Sherman said.

Overall, Sherman was well received by the committee members and, for the most part, skillfully handled a barrage of questions on issues ranging from foreign aid to Libya.

Sherman was once chief of staff for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who introduced Sherman at the hearing. "She is a strategic thinker, a seasoned diplomat, and an experienced and skilled negotiator," Mikulski said.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the committee, didn't talk much about Sherman in his opening statement, but rather used his time to criticize what he saw as a broad lack of strategic direction in the Obama administration's foreign policy.

"I remain concerned that our national security policy is being driven without sufficient planning or strategic design. The expansion of the Afghanistan mission and the intervention in Libya, in particular, have occurred with limited reference to strategic goals or vital interests," Lugar said.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) focused on the case of Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Menendez is calling for Megrahi to be rearrested by the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC).

Menendez said he will introduce today the "Pan Am 103 Accountability Act" which would require the president to consider Libya's cooperation on the Lockerbie investigation and would condition the thawing of frozen Libyan assets on the administration's certification that the NTC was cooperating with the United States on the issue.

The only critical comments directed at Sherman came from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who compared what he saw as two philosophies in current American foreign policy: One that he described as "strength," "firmness," and "verification"; another that depends on "friendliness," "appeasement," and "trust." He said Sherman's time as North Korean policy coordinator in the Clinton administration might indicate she was in the latter camp.

Sherman humored DeMint and said if she had to choose, she favored "strength," over "appeasement," but she also said that DeMint was offering up a false choice.

"I don't believe that engagement is the antithesis of strength and verification," she said.


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