Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State
QUESTION: Joining us now live, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Madam Secretary, welcome to Fox News Sunday.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Good to be with you, Bret.
QUESTION: Want to obviously talk a lot about Ukraine, but I want to start where I left off there with General Keane, and that is these 12 ballistic missiles fired on the U.S. consulate in Erbil, Iraq from inside Iran. Just in the past few minutes, Iran is now claiming responsibility for that attack. What is the reaction to that, and is there going to be a response?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: This was a very concerning attack, as General Keane pointed out. Indeed, we do not believe that the consulate was actually the target of this missile attack. We are very glad that our facilities are secure, that everybody’s accounted for, that no one has been hurt or killed. But all of that said, this is great concern. There will indeed be a statement, I’m sure, coming out shortly, as well as calls in. This was an attack on Iraq’s sovereignty, among other things, and of great concern to all of us.
QUESTION: Obviously —
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: We will be following this closely.
QUESTION: We have U.S. personnel there who work and live there, and as you mentioned, no casualties as of yet that we’ve heard of. But at the same time, the U.S. is closing in on this nuclear deal with Iran. Is that true? Is it close?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, I think it’s close, and we would like all of the parties – including Russia, which has indicated it’s got some concerns – to bring this to a close. We are very concerned about what Iran is doing, but imagine these Iranians with a nuclear weapon. We need to get that off the table so we can address their malign behavior in the Middle East, and we will do all of the above, but first we’ve got to get this deal. And it is not yet closed.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you can understand the disconnect for the average American watching this happening. As we’re sitting at a table not only with the Iranians but the Russians in Vienna, we are getting fired upon by Iran. You’re saying the target wasn’t the U.S. consulate, but that’s where it ended up. Help people get – square this circle, because it doesn’t seem like a lot of people think that we should be doing that.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: It’s hard to understand, I appreciate that, but here’s the deal: If Iran has a nuclear weapon, its ability to project power into the Middle East and to deter us, our allies and partners, is enormous. So President Biden believes very strongly, as does Secretary Blinken, as do I, that we need to make sure that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon, and then we also need to deal with their malign behavior in the region. But first we’ve got to make sure that they cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Right. I just have two more quick questions.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Sure.
QUESTION: You think that this deal is as good as the 2015 deal? You were a part of that as well.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think we don’t know yet. It is not closed; it is not finished. We are urging all parties to do what they need to, and there’s a lot of onus on Iran to decide whether in fact it wants to move forward or not, come into compliance and ensure that Iran never has a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Right. And regardless of whether the deal is reached or not, is there a plan to deal with Iran’s regional behavior, proxies, terrorism, fighting, these missiles, drones, whether there’s a deal with removing sanctions or not?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Absolutely, very high priority, working with our partners and allies in the region to do exactly that.
QUESTION: Okay, and last thing. There is reporting that two Iranians belonging to the Qods Force have been plotting to assassinate former National Security Advisor John Bolton according to the Justice Department. And this is The Washington Examiner reporting that the department possess indictable evidence against the Iranians, but the Biden administration resisting publicly indicting the men for fear that it could derail their drive for the nuclear deal with Iran currently nearing completion in Vienna. Do you know that to be true?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: What I know to be true is that we have a responsibility to protect American citizens from harm. We do that every single day, and that is true of all present and past American officials, and that is our highest priority.
QUESTION: But nothing is being held back?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Nothing is being held back. We are going to protect Americans wherever they are however we can.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, now to Ukraine. These new strikes overnight in the west, just miles from the Polish border, the death toll now at 35, 135 wounded there. Nothing NATO or the U.S. has done so far has stopped Vladimir Putin. How does this end?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, right now it looks like it ends very badly already for the Ukrainian people. I think we all spend every day just horrified at the suffering of the American* people. As your reporter on the ground discussed, it is just awful, particularly in Mariupol, where people are either going to starve to death or freeze to death or die because they don’t have their medicine. It is truly horrifying.
There are two objectives that we have. One is to support Ukraine in every way we can, and indeed, since the Biden administration began, we have put $1.2 billion forward in security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself against this horrible attack. And the second is to put enormous pressure on Vladimir Putin to try to change his calculus, to end this war, to get a ceasefire in the first instance, to get humanitarian corridors, and to end this invasion. That pressure is beginning to have some effect. We are seeing some signs of a willingness to have real, serious negotiations. But I have to say, as your reporter said, so far it appears that Vladimir Putin is intent on destroying Ukraine. We need to help Ukrainians in every way we can.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, everyone is wary of World War III. President Biden mentioned that the other day. But on Capitol Hill, there are now more and more lawmakers seeming to say that they’re tired of giving Putin the upper hand here, at least publicly. Here’s Senator Mitt Romney:
SENATOR ROMNEY: “President Putin has actually said the things we’re doing are provocative. He’s already said that the sanctions we’ve put in place are like declaring war. He’s going to continue saying that, and we are fearful of provoking him. It’s time for him to be fearful of us.”
QUESTION: So is there a way to flip the script here?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think we’ve already started to flip that script, Bret. I think that $1.2 billion in security assistance – anti-tank, anti-armor, anti-aircraft – is really helping Ukraine to resist the onslaught of what your reporter said is a army of Russia where Putin very badly miscalculated how this war would go. It is nonetheless horrifying for the Ukrainian people, and so we want to support them in every way we possibly can. And we want to support everyone’s efforts coordinated with the United States to try to mediate and end this terrible, terrible situation.
QUESTION: You’re saying support them in every way, but the MiG-29 situation – these jets from Poland – really seemed to be a mixed message. Republicans are now talking about that openly, criticizing the administration. Here’s Senator Tom Cotton; take a listen.
SENATOR COTTON: “They’re saying on the one hand Ukraine is not effectively using its current aircraft and can’t effectively use this aircraft, so the gains would be very small. But on the other hand, Vladimir Putin is going to view this as such an escalation that he might strike the United States or strike NATO. Both of those things can’t be true.”
SENATOR GRAHAM: “The Ukrainians don’t need applause; they need jets.”
SENATOR ROMNEY: “They want MiGs; get them the MiGs.”
QUESTION: (Inaudible) say – if the Ukrainians say they do want these MiGs, whether we assess that they’re good or not for the battlefield, why not get them that?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: So look, if I were President Zelenskyy, I would want everything and anything I could possibly get, so I understand this. The Pentagon, however, made an assessment that trying to move these planes was very complicated, that backfilling them was virtually impossible, that what Ukrainians really needed were anti-aircraft, anti-tank, and anti-armor weapons, which is what we are supplying them in great measure and coordinating with other countries to do the same. So I understand the frustration.
And one of the things I think has been really terrific in this horrifying situation is there has been bipartisan support for Ukraine. I’m really grateful that Congress recently passed the legislation – provide an additional $200 million dollars in drawdown that Secretary Blinken signed out yesterday. So this is a bipartisan effort. At the Munich Security Conference, there was a strong bipartisan delegation in support of Ukraine. And there is that kind of support on Capitol Hill, which I think sends an important signal not only to Ukraine, but to Putin that he can’t divide America, he can’t divide NATO, he can’t divide Europe, he can’t divide the world. A hundred and forty-one countries signed up to a resolution at the UN General Assembly denouncing what Vladimir Putin is doing. This is one man’s choice to wage a premeditated, unjust, unprovoked war against a sovereign country. We can’t let it stand.
QUESTION: Quickly, has the Russia-China relationship suffered or strengthened as a result of this invasion?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think that’s an open question yet, Bret, to be perfectly honest. We saw Russia and China come closer together, certainly before the Olympics, putting out a long manifesto about their partnership and how they were going to move forward together. And at the same time, we’ve seen China pretty uncomfortable with an invasion of a sovereign country. China has – the People’s Republic of China has often said that sovereignty is key, territorial integrity is key, that countries should decide their own political future. We agree with those principles. We hope that China does as well.
In two weeks – in two weeks – Vladimir Putin undid 30 years of economic development. There was an international order that China and Russia both subscribed to that helped – both countries developed. For Russia, that is now gone. We’re seeing them be taken out of every organization. The President’s going to move forward with the Congress on removing them from most-favored nation status at the WTO, the World Trade Organization. I think the PRC is watching very closely, has to make some tough decisions.
QUESTION: But yet they’re sounding very bold, Madam Secretary. Just yesterday, China warned that any country supporting Taiwan militarily would face, quote, “the worst consequences,” adding no one, no force would be able to stop the Communist Party if it attacks Taiwan. That does not sound positive. So the last question I have for you: Has Russia’s invasion changed China’s calculus when it comes to Taiwan?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: I hope that China is looking very carefully at what’s happening. We have a united world with very grave and very consequential sanctions on Russia. We understand and support a “one China” policy, but we don’t believe that China, PRC, ought to take Taiwan by force, and we will do everything we can to deter that effort by the PRC. And I think they’re watching very closely. In fact, I think they made that statement, Bret, because they’ve seen what’s happened and they’re trying to go on the offense knowing that they ought to be on the defense.
QUESTION: Secretary Sherman, thank you. Thanks for your time this weekend.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you.