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Wendy Sherman: Blame Bush v. Gore for North Korea Missile Tests

A South Korean man watches a TV news program with a file footage about North Korea's rocket launch at Seoul Railway Station on Feb. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Wendy Sherman, chief U.S. nuclear negotiator with Iran, said she did not negotiate the Clinton-era nuclear deal with North Korea but touted its success during former President Bill Clinton’s time in office.

At the end of the Clinton administration, Sherman said she was trying to prevent North Korea from doing any missile tests but the contested 2000 presidential election between Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush (R-Texas) got in the way.

Sherman served in the Obama administration from September 2011 to October 2015 as the undersecretary of state for political affairs, which is the fourth-ranking position in the State Department.

She was also the counselor of the State Department in the Clinton administration and the policy coordinator for North Korea.

“Let me first set some facts straight since there seems to have been a little uncertainty about the facts when North Korea is concerned. I did not negotiate the agreed framework. My hat is off to Ambassador Bob Gallucci, who did, and that agreement, however, was only four pages long as opposed to the many, many pages of this agreement,” Sherman said during “Inside the Iran Negotiations” at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

“For the entire Clinton administration, because of the agreed framework, not one additional ounce of weapons-grade plutonium was produced, not one ounce. At the beginning of the Clinton administration, there was probably enough weapons-grade plutonium for one to two nuclear weapons, that had been produced during Bush 41,” she added.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) mentioned Sherman by name during the Feb. 6 presidential debate.

“I would note also the lead negotiator in that failed North Korea sanctions deal was a woman named Wendy Sherman who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promptly recruited to come back to be the lead negotiator with Iran. So, what we are seeing with North Korea is foreshadowing of where we will be with Iran,” Cruz said.

Sherman said the U.S. became aware North Korea had started an “enriched uranium” program covertly after the Clinton administration.

“They hadn’t produced enriched uranium yet but had begun. At the end of the Clinton administration, what I was negotiating was actually to not allow them to do any missile tests — because we had the agreed framework, so they couldn’t create weapons-grade plutonium — but we wanted to make sure they didn’t have a delivery mechanism. And we were close, I believe, to getting that agreement, which would have meant all these recent tests would not have happened. But we were sort of in this complicated presidential race in America.”

Sherman said the Clinton administration did not think it was appropriate to attempt to bring the North Korea situation to “closure” when they could not brief the incoming administration.

“We didn’t get an incoming administration until December and President Clinton was trying to see if he could get Middle East peace — he couldn’t do both and he tried to see if he could get Middle East peace, which ended up not being the case and he’s often second-guessed himself about that choice,” she said.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea is expanding its nuclear program.

“Pyongyang continues to produce fissile material and develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile,” he said.

Looking at the current situation with North Korea, Sherman said the U.S. should enter discussions with China about how to handle North Korea.

“As long as China is worried about North Korea’s collapse, they’re not going to use the leverage that they have and North Korea is going to continue to taunt,” she said.

During the Feb. 6 presidential debate, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump expressed a similar view.

“They have total, absolute control, practically, of North Korea. They are sucking trillions of dollars out of our country — they’re rebuilding China with the money they take out of our country. I would get on with China, let China solve that problem,” he said.

Sherman said the U.S. will be moved to “great missile defense” in Asia if there are no improvements in relations with North Korea.

“China, of course, does not want us to build up missile defense systems in Asia,” she said.