Kerry speaks with reporters.
Kerry speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill before testifying before a Senate panel. Photo by AFP
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Reuters
Kerry shakes hands with Senator Manchin as they arrive on Capitol Hill. Photo by Reuters

Tensions heightened and rhetoric escalated between Washington and Jerusalem on Wednesday as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave what was described as a “fairly anti-Israeli” briefing on Capitol Hill while his State Department dismissed Israeli evaluations of the proposed nuclear deal with Iran as “inaccurate, exaggerated and not based in reality.”

Accompanied by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, top U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman and other officials, Kerry tried to convince Senators to refrain from approving new sanctions against Iran, with saying that such a move would “destroy the ability to be able to get agreement.” Kerry told skeptical lawmakers that they needed to “calm down” and to give the negotiations a chance to succeed.

But Republican Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said that Kerry’s briefing had been “disappointing” while his colleague Mark Kirk (R-IL) described it as “very unconvincing."

Speaking to reporters after the briefing before the Senate Banking Committee, Kirk described it as “fairly anti-Israeli” and seemed to put more trust in intelligence assessments apparently given to him by Israeli officials than in Kerry’s official presentation.

“I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service,” Kirk said. He revealed that the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

According to the Buzzfeed news site, a Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

“They had no details,” the aide said. “They had no ability to verify anything, to describe anything, to answer basic questions.”

Kirk also adopted the Israeli comparisons of the Iran deal to the Munich Agreement, saying: “Today is the day I witnessed the future of nuclear war in the Middle East.”

Buzzfeed reporter Rosie Gray said that Democrats coming out of the meeting were tight-lipped, with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) the only one who said anything further than “no comment.”

“I have trust and faith in Secretary Kerry’s ability and his intentions in making sure we find the path” to keeping Iran from going nuclear, Manchin said.

Kerry told reporters after his meeting: “Our hope is that no new sanctions would be put in place for the simple reason that, if they are, it could be viewed as bad faith by the people we are negotiating with. It could destroy the ability to be able to get agreement and it could actually wind up setting us back in dialogue that's taken 30 years to achieve."

Earlier, State Department spokesperson Jen Paski used unusually blunt and undiplomatic language to dismiss claims made on Wednesday by Israeli Minister Yuval Steinitz that the proposed deal with Iran would cut 40% of the value of the current sanctions regime and would give Tehran a $40 billion benefit.

“Without going into specifics about what we’re considering, that number, I can assure you, is inaccurate, exaggerated, and not based in reality,” she said.

The cross exchanges also continued between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the latter telling the Knesset in the morning the “bad deal” with Iran could ultimately lead to war, while White House spokesperson Jay Carney retorted that scuttling a deal by imposing new sanctions could “open the door to confrontation.”