US officials deny report of freezing Israel out of Iran nuclear talks
By MICHAEL WILNER/02/15/2015
Washington’s policy of briefing Israel on progress in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program has not changed, senior US officials told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, despite reports to the contrary in Israeli media. Channel 2 reported earlier in the day the US would halt its briefings to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in light of his planned speech to Congress. Netanyahu is expected to criticize the state of the global diplomatic effort, which is geared towards crafting a comprehensive nuclear agreement.
“Conversations continue with Israel on the Iran nuclear negotiations,” one senior State Department official said. “Under Secretary [of State for Political Affairs Wendy] Sherman met with Israeli NSA Cohen and Minister for Intelligence and Strategic Planning Steinitz in Munich and will see NSA Cohen again this week.”The official noted that the Iran talks were, “obviously,” the main topic of conversation.
“And Secretary [of State John] Kerry continues his conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu about this issue, as has always been the case,” the official continued. The White House also rejected the report, noting Cohen’s upcoming meeting next week at the White House with National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
“This report is patently false,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey told the Post. “We also continue our frequent and routine contact at various professional levels within the intelligence, military, and diplomatic spheres.”The report is one of many from Israeli television that has been criticized in recent months by the White House. In January, a senior US official characterized claims the US had given in to 80 percent of Iran’s demands in the talks as “complete nonsense.”
Channel 2 reported that the White House is incensed over the Israeli government’s conduct in recent weeks regarding the Iranian issue, believing that Jerusalem has taken a sensitive issue with implications for national security and used it for political gain while interfering in American domestic politics. According to Channel 2, the Obama administration is also angry over Israeli officials’ distorted use of information about the progress of the Iran nuclear talks.
Sherman reportedly informed her counterparts in Jerusalem that she would no longer provide updates on the Iran nuclear negotiations due to what Washington perceives as untoward use of the information for domestic Israeli political purposes. The Channel 2 report also stated that the administration has instructed Rice to cease communications with Cohen.
The Prime Minister’s Office responded to the Channel 2 report by saying that Israel and the US continue to maintain “deep strategic relations” and that Cohen is due to fly to the US soon to take part in a conference, during which he is scheduled to meet with both Sherman and Rice. Earlier on Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner said he made a politically calculated decision not to inform the White House of his invitation to Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, fearing US President Barack Obama would attempt to obstruct the speech.
Speaking to Fox News, Boehner said that Netanyahu’s message on Iran was important for the American people to hear— and that the White House would prefer they not hear his position, which stands in opposition to the president’s. “I wanted to make sure that there was no interference,” Boehner said, referring to the White House. “There’s no secret here in Washington about the animosity that this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu. I frankly didn’t want that getting in the way, quashing what I thought was a real opportunity.”
The host of “Fox News Sunday,” Chris Wallace, has been critical of the speaker’s moves in the past, and asked Boehner if he has turned the critical issue of US-Israel relations into a political football. “I have not,” he said. “The fact is that we had every right to do what we did… I wanted the prime minister to come here.”