WASHINGTON D.C.: Relations between the United States and Israel appeared to plunge to a new low this week with the Obama administration charging that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has leaked secrets to undermine American efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.
With tension already high over Netanyahu’s plans to castigate the US policy on Iran in a speech to a joint session of Congress on March 3, White House and State Department officials publicly complained that Israeli officials had disclosed sensitive details from private US briefings to publicly attack the American negotiating position.
US officials initially had denied reports that the administration was withholding details from Israel of the closed-door talks with Iran. That changed on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) into a blunt rebuke of one of America’s closest allies.
“Not everything you are hearing from the Israeli government is an accurate reflection of the talks,” Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters. She said the administration has begun “a selective sharing of information” with Israel as a result.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest complained of “a continued practice of cherry-picking specific pieces of information and using them out of context to distort the negotiating position of the United States.”
Netanyahu fired back on Thursday (Friday in Manila), saying Israel understands the problem all too well.
“I think this is a bad agreement that is dangerous for the state of Israel,” he said at the Public Security Ministry in Lod, Israel.
His chief opponent in Israel’s March 17 elections quickly seized on the administration’s comments.
Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu’s main rival for prime minister, said in a Facebook post that “the US administration says he leaks, lies and distorts information from within the negotiations with Iran. All for his seat. Simply unbelievable. They too have lost all trust in him.”
The US and five other powers —Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China—have spent more than a year trying to persuade Tehran to give up enough of its enrichment program to prevent it from building nuclear weapons. In exchange for strict monitoring and limits, the West would ease and ultimately lift economic sanctions on Tehran.
Negotiators have given themselves until the end of March to work out a framework and set a June 30 deadline to complete a deal.
President Barack Obama’s relations with Netanyahu have been rocky for years, but the White House did not hide its displeasure last month when it learned that the prime minister had accepted an invitation from House Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican-Ohio, to speak to Congress about his concerns.
Obama later said he would not meet with Netanyahu because it would be inappropriate so close to the March 17 elections. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry plan to be out of town, and a scattering of Democratic lawmakers have said they will skip the speech in protest.