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Deputy Secretary of State Sherman on Ukraine latest and talks between China and U.S.


Russia's attack on Ukraine is expanding. Until recently the city of Lviv, that's western Ukraine, had been relatively safe. Then last night, Russian missiles rained down on an aviation repair building at the Lviv airport. That building, which houses Ukrainian MiG fighter jets, is just 45 miles from Ukraine's border with Poland. Meanwhile, separated by thousands of miles, President Biden and China's President Xi Jinping met over a secure video call to discuss the growing conflict.

Both of these are developments that Wendy Sherman has been watching very closely from her post as deputy secretary of state. We've called her today at the State Department. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

WENDY SHERMAN: Great to be with you.

KELLY: Let's start with these talks with President Xi. He and President Biden met this morning for almost two hours. President Xi, according to China's readout, is reported to have said China doesn't want to see the situation in Ukraine come to this, that China stands for peace. So I'll start by asking, did President Xi make any concrete commitments in that direction, in the direction of using his leverage to stop this war?

SHERMAN: Look, I'm not going to speak for President Xi. We'll let the comments from the People's Republic of China stand for themselves, however they want to characterize...

KELLY: Those comments didn't show any concrete commitments in that direction, which is why I'm asking you.

SHERMAN: Well, what I can say is that President Biden made very clear to President Xi Jinping that this was Putin's war of choice. And President Biden made clear to President Xi Jinping that if China provides material support to Russia, as it conducts these brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians, then there will be implications and consequences.

KELLY: Has China already provided support to Russia, either military or economic? Do we know?

SHERMAN: I'm not going to speak to any intelligence or anything of that nature. I think we have reason to be concerned. And we certainly want to head off any choice that China would make to do so, because this really is a case of an aggressor, Vladimir Putin, and a victim, Ukraine.

KELLY: So what consequences are on the table from the U.S. side if China does support Russia, either economically or militarily?

SHERMAN: Well, I think one only has to look at what we have done in concert with our allies and partners, not only in Europe but around the world, which is to impose very severe costs. It depends on what happens here, of course. And we would take each circumstance and look at it very carefully about what the appropriate response would be. But one can't support such an aggressor without, in fact, bearing some of the cost.

KELLY: How do you make the case? How does the U.S. make the case to China, you should stand with the U.S, when China's long term strategic goals appear to be much more closely aligned with Russia's?

SHERMAN: Well, look, we understand that China, the People's Republic of China, has interests with Russia, that it has a strategic partnership that has business interests and oil interests, lots of other things of that nature. But, you know, that doesn't mean you always agree with what your partners are doing. And there is no formal alliance between the two countries. But even that aside, we would say to the PRC, as a Security Council member, as a country that has long stood for these principles, that they should continue to stand with these principles and tell Vladimir Putin to end this unprovoked war. Ukraine was never a threat to Russia. There was no reason for Russia to invade. And the PRC can do something here to use its influence and at the very least to make sure that it doesn't provide any material support to this aggressor nation.

KELLY: In the minute we have left, let me flip you to Iran, which Russia threw a wrench in there as well, a wrench into the talks on getting Iran back into the nuclear deal. Do you see, Wendy Sherman, those talks getting going again next week? And bigger picture, can Iran still be stopped from getting a nuclear weapon?

SHERMAN: President Biden is absolutely committed, as is Secretary Blinken, as am I, to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. It would be quite, quite a problem if they did. As much as they have malign behavior in the Middle East today, they would be able to project power into that region and deter many actions that we must take to protect our partners in the region. So this is very crucial.

There are ongoing discussions. Russia did, in fact, appear to throw a wrench in it. Iran has engaged Russia to my information. And it appears that in fact Russia was talking about a very narrow slice of what was necessary for the deal, not the broader sanctions that we have imposed because of the unprovoked war in Ukraine. That would be absolutely impossible, of course. There are still a couple of issues yet to be resolved, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We all hope, of course, that Iran comes back into full compliance, so that they never can obtain a nuclear weapon.

KELLY: And getting talks going...

SHERMAN: We can continue our consultations and our work together with our partners and allies in the broader region to ensure not only that Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon, but that we push back on their malign behavior in the region, which is very concerning.

KELLY: Last question, and it's a yes or no question. Will the United States take the IRGC, the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, will the U.S. take them off the foreign terrorist list?

SHERMAN: I'm not going to get into the details of the negotiation or what is being discussed.

KELLY: But it is being discussed?

SHERMAN: It is very important when one does negotiations that you keep things, as difficult as it may be, because there's so many pieces of the puzzle on the table. So I'm not going to get into the details. What I am going to say is that at the end of this negotiation, if Iran will come back into full compliance, at which point we will as well, that we will make sure that we can continue to address the state sponsorship of terrorism by the Republic of Iran.

KELLY: We will leave it there for today. That's Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on the line from the State Department. Thank you very much for your time and for speaking with us.

SHERMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.