Weird Key to Iran Deal: Wendy Sherman's Whiteboard

US negotiator used low-tech tool to keep talks moving
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2015 10:03 AM CDT
Weird Key to Iran Deal: Wendy Sherman's Whiteboard
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

You'd be forgiven for thinking that John Kerry was the lead US negotiator in the talks that led to this week's Iran nuclear deal, but that duty actually fell to Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of state for political affairs. Today, the New York Times points out a simple tool she used to make sure the deal didn't fall apart at crunch time: a whiteboard that followed her everywhere, on which both Americans and Iranians wrote proposals. The Times explains why it mattered:

  • "The board served a major diplomatic purpose, letting both sides consider proposals without putting anything on paper. That allowed the Iranians to talk without sending a document back to Tehran for review, where hard-liners could chip away at it, according to several American officials interviewed for this article ..."

The story quotes one US official who calls it a "brilliantly low-tech solution." Reuters elaborates on the process: "All the delegations would bring their own pieces of paper with their ideas and then they would use the whiteboard to come up with a joint outline for a deal. As things changed, they would erase the board and put new details on it." Both stories take note that one poor soul accidentally wrote a confidential figure on the board in permanent marker, and it took some serious scrubbing to remove it at the end of the negotiating session. (More Iran nuclear weapons program stories.)

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