Washington, D.C. — During a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Nominations Hearing, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned Wendy Sherman, nominee to be the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of State, on former Secretary of State John Kerry’s role on non-climate related issues, Sherman’s meetings with Iranian regime officials while not in government service, and comments she made regarding the Trump Administration’s policy towards Cuba and Venezuela.
Video of Senator Rubio’s remarks can be found here and a full transcript of Rubio’s remarks are below.
Rubio: Thank you both for being here, and for your willingness to serve.
Ms. Sherman, let me just ask you quickly as we start out. What's your understanding of former Secretary Kerry's role? Is he going to be involved in Israeli-Palestinian issues? Is he going to be involved in negotiating the Iran issue or is he solely going to be focused on the climate issues?
Sherman: My understanding, Senator, is that former Secretary Kerry is the President's Special Envoy on Climate, and that is his sole responsibility. And it's quite a large one. Should take up most of his time.
Rubio: Since January of 2017, have you met with any Iranian government officials?
Sherman: I have met with Iranian officials, I can't remember the last time that it happened. Senator.
Rubio: Who did you meet with?
Sherman: I have met with Foreign Minister Zarif. I've met with my former counterparts, Abbas Araghchi and Marie Majid Ranchi, who is now the Ambassador to the United Nations. And when I had such meetings, they were on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, where, as you know, everyone attends from all over the world before and after these meetings.
Senator, I think most of the time, if not every time, I was in touch with [former] Undersecretary for Political Affairs [David] Hale, to let him know that I was having such a meeting and to let him know that I would certainly stay in touch. I would represent America's policies, whether I agreed with them or not. And in those meetings, my sole purpose was to urge the Iranians not to take actions that were against the deal that would escalate the security situation.
And most importantly, Senator, I am appealed to by almost every family who has someone detained in Evin prison. And so my major purpose, quite frankly, in those meetings was to urge the Iranians that I know to get Americans out of Evin prison because it is the most heartbreaking set of meetings anyone can have, is to sit with families and hear how horrifying the situation is.
Rubio: And I would agree with that. And I appreciate your work on that. And I appreciate your answer on having been in touch with members of the previous administration.
You did write an article in July of 2020 where you wrote, among other things in areas I care about: “As a result of Trump's failure” you cited a bunch of places but, “the people of Cuba and Venezuela face a bitter future”. So I wanted to explore in particular just a number of the changes that were made under the Trump Administration to see if you think that those were bad ideas.
One of them was a measure that prohibited doing business with entities controlled, owned, and operated by the Cuban military. And in particular, one of them was the one that controls all the remittances. They take a 10 percent right off the top. So you can send remittances to Cuba. You just have to do it through a bank. It just can't be through the hands of this [group] that skims off 10 percent. And you can do business with individual private Cubans. You just can't do business with entities controlled by the Cuban military and the regime. Was that a bad idea?
Sherman: I don't know the details well enough, Senator. But, I do agree that we should take measures that say to the Cuban government that we do not support their way forward and that we support the freedom of the Cuban people.
Rubio: Well, the details are as follows: the goal of the strategy was to say, if you want to do business with an individual, a private Cuban, in fact, the Trump Administration made it easier to send remittances to Cubans who are using that money to open up a private business to the extent that they're allowed to do it, you're allowed to send remittances. If they can do it through a bank, you can obviously take the cash in yourself as an individual. The one thing they said is you can't send it through this entity, which skims 10 percent off the top. And that's just the beginning of how they take the money. They also have to spend it at their stores and you can't do business, not even with the Ministry of Tourism per say, in some cases, but with the entities controlled by the Cuban military.
The gist of it is if individual Cubans are allowed to engage in commercial activity, the United States can do a lot of things with them. But if it's going to be run through the clearinghouse of an entity controlled by the military in Cuba, it cannot. That's the prohibited entity. So I'm curious. I mean, that was the heart and soul of the Trump policy. Yet, you say, somehow it leads to a bleak future for the Cuban people. And so I'm curious of those things you thought were bad ideas. I've described it to you.
Sherman: So, Senator, I believe that it is very important that we support the Cuban people and that we take actions that increase their chances for freedom, their chances for private commercial activity, their ability to get remittances, which increases their own economic power. The primary objective, it is my understanding, of the Biden Harris Administration is to move forward on the freedom and the need for democracy in Cuba. And the greatest emissaries for that are the American people, led by Cuban Americans. And quite frankly, Senator, you and I have not had a chance to talk. I know how much you know about Cuba. I know how much you know about what we need to do to help support the Cuban people. And I look forward to further discussions with you about that. So, yes, if there are ways to support the Cuban people, I'm all for it.
Rubio: OK, well, you also mentioned Venezuela in that piece. The cornerstone of the Trump approach was the recognition of Juan Guaidó as a legitimately elected President or the President of the legitimately like the National Assembly and imposing sanctions that he and almost the entire opposition supported, which sanctioned how the regime stole money. Was that a bad idea?
Sherman: I think it was a very good idea to support Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. What I would have hoped for, Senator, difficult to do, is that we would have done more work to bring together our allies and partners in the region and around the world, quite frankly, not just in Latin America, but around the world, to increase the pressure and to support and recognize Guaidó, to try to end the horrible saga for the Venezuelan people.
Rubio: The overwhelming majority of countries in the region did recognize Guaidó and did come together via the Lima Group.
Sherman: Yes, indeed. And beyond the Lima Group and around the world, I just think there were more steps that we could have taken. It is a very difficult situation. And again, you and I have not had a chance to talk about this. And I look forward to your counsel. I know we share the same objective. And that is for the people of Venezuela to have a life and right now they do not.
Rubio: Well, I would just close by saying this, beyond the Lima Group the only countries really left at that point at that time were Nicaragua, Cuba, and Argentina and Bolivia under Morales.
Good luck with that.
Sherman: But beyond Latin America, Senator.
Rubio: Well, that's the E.U., and they just sanctioned Venezuela[n officials] as well. And many of those countries did [recognize Guaidó].