Wendy Sherman, a former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and a lead negotiator on the US-Iran nuclear deal, has been widely reported to have been appointed as the next United States Deputy Secretary of State.
The situation in Sri Lanka and Tamil politics will not be entirely unfamiliar to Sherman, as she looks to take up the role later this month. In 2011, Sherman met with a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation made up of R Sampanthan, Mavai Senathirajah, Suresh Premachandran and M A Sumanthiran, as it visited Washington on the invitation of the US State Department.
The TNA delegation in 2011.
The TNA also met with Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert Blake during that visit, where Sumanthiran said “discussions were with regard to our stand in respect of a political solution and shared our views on the issues of accountability and the work of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)”.
Speaking to the Associated Press after the meeting, Sumanthiran said,
"The message that we have given is that we are disappointed and disillusioned at the Sri Lankan government's failure to show the political will [in sharing political power and postwar rehabilitation]"
"The truth as to what happened must be ascertained and laid bare for reconciliation to take place."
Then US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland also noted that “Under Secretary Sherman’s main point was that we have high expectations for the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report which is due later in the month – not only that the report will be of highest quality, but that the Sri Lankan Government will take steps to implement it”.
“So that was the main message that we were giving, and we look forward to seeing that report.”
The report, which was produced by the then Rajapaksa regime, was widely panned for downplaying and even covering up many of the crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military. The final LLRC report was criticised by several organisations, including the Tamil National Alliance, the Tamil National People’s Front, the US State Department, the British government, a cross-party group of British MPs, the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Nuland later said that the US had “concerns” over the LLRC and there were “gaps” in the report.
After her role in the State Department, Sherman went on to become a senior counselor at the Albright Stonebridge Group, “the same firm where Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s pick to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also worked as a senior counsellor,” reports Politico.
Before she left her post, then US Secretary of State John Kerry, praised her as being “way ahead of the curve, gathering information, assessing options, and proposing ideas that helped us find the right path forward”.
He went on to state,
“At one time or another, she was fully engaged in the Central American refugee situation, the Ukraine crisis, the Syrian civil war, the struggle for stability in Libya and Yemen, the restoration of diplomatic ties with Somalia, the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria, the confrontation with ISIL, the rebalance to Asia, the elections in Sri Lanka, and on and on.
“Whatever, the issue, Wendy could be counted on for advice and diplomacy that was smart, realistic and sure to advance America’s interests and values.”
She currently serves on the boards of the International Crisis Group (ICG) and the Atlantic Council, as well as being a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Sherman, described by Politico as one of the “veterans of the Obama administration” and a recipient of the National Security Medal, is tipped to serve under Anthony Blinken, who also has ties to the ICG and has previously remarked on Sri Lanka.
See more on Blinken in our piece: Antony Blinken and Sri Lanka – A look at the new US Secretary of State
Also read more on the new US administration below.