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Iran looms over Senate hearing for Biden nominee for senior U.S. State post

WASHINGTON — U.S. senators peppered President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the No. 2 official at the State Department with questions about Iran on Wednesday, a sign she could face difficulty winning support from Republicans even as she warned against “nostalgia” for the Iran nuclear deal she helped broker.

Wendy Sherman, who helped negotiate the international accord in 2015, promised a new approach to Iran at her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing.

The 2015 deal, aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, was fiercely opposed by Republicans and some Democrats, including Senator Bob Menendez, who is now the committee’s chairman. Former Republican President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018.

Sherman said she did not expect the Democratic Biden administration to duplicate the approach to Iran of former President Barack Obama, for whom Biden was vice president.

Biden’s approach must “be decided on the merits of where we are today, not nostalgia for what might have been,” she said.

The world had changed since 2016, when the deal was implemented, Sherman said. “The facts on the ground have changed, the geopolitics of the region have changed, and the way forward must similarly change,” she said.

Sherman said she did not know what the administration’s ultimate Iran policy would be, but stressed that Biden was determined not to let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon.

“Iran is a long way from compliance (with the nuclear agreement), as we well know,” she said.

Menendez said while he supported the Biden administration’s decision to engage with Iran, any policy needed bipartisan support to succeed.

Senator Jim Risch, the panel’s top Republican, also called for bipartisan policy and said he opposed a return to the nuclear pact.

Sherman was State Department counselor from 1997 to 2001, when she was also policy coordinator on North Korea. From 1993 to 1996 she served as assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs.

Several committee Democrats said they looked forward to supporting Sherman’s nomination but it was not clear how much support she would receive from Republicans. She can be confirmed without Republican support, since Democrats control the Senate.

The hearing also considered one of Biden’s long-time foreign policy advisers, Brian McKeon, to be Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. McKeon, who was praised by senators from both parties, served as counsel for the committee when then-Senator Biden was its chairman. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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