Fearing Leaks, U.S. 'Limiting' Information It Shares With Israel on Iran Nuke Talks

The Americans fear Netanyahu will make use of the information given to Israel for his own political needs, and will try to undermine the talks between Iran and the big powers.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Obama talks with Netanyahu before a press conference at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013.
Obama talks with Netanyahu before a press conference at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013.Credit: Pete Souza/U.S. Government Works
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

As a result of the recent tension between the United States and Israel, the White House has begun to limit the scope, quality and depth of the information it shares with Jerusalem about the progress of the talks with Iran about its nuclear program, senior Israeli officials involved in the issue have told Haaretz.

The administration apparently believes that Israel and the U.S. now have a conflict of interests regarding the Iranian issue, the source said. While U.S. President Barack Obama wants to make every effort to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, Netanyahu is doing everything he can to block one.

One of the main reasons for the decision to limit the information the U.S. shares with Israel on the nuclear talks is a fear of leaks. The Americans fear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make use of the information given to Israel for his own political needs, and will try to undermine the talks between Iran and the big powers.

In recent weeks the Americans felt that information given to Israel about the talks – like, for example, the new proposal Iran had submitted regarding the centrifuges it would be allowed to retain – is finding its way to the Israeli media as part of what looks like an effort by Netanyahu to scuttle the talks.

The senior Israeli official said that the Americans continue to meet with and update their Israeli counterparts, but are passing on information about the talks “at a lower resolution.”

Journalist Amnon Abramovich first reported on the deterioration in the Israel-U.S. discourse regarding the Iranian issue. His report on Channel 2 stated that the White House and the State Department decided to totally cut off communications with Israel on the matter, and that Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who heads the American negotiations team, ceased updating her Israeli counterparts on the topic of the Iran talks.

Both the White House and the State Department hastened to deny that there had been a decision to sever ties with Israel over the Iranian issue, but did not make any mention of matters of the scope and caliber of the information being transferred. Alistair Baskey, Deputy Spokesperson for the White House's National Security Council, said Rice was holding regular contacts on the Iranian issue with her Israeli counterpart Yossi Cohen, and that she would meet him later this week in Washington. Philip Gordon, Obama's coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf, will also meet with Cohen on Monday in Jerusalem.

A State Department official said the American consultations with Israel on Iran were ongoing, and noted that Sherman had met just last week in Munich with Cohen and with Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz. The official stated that Secretary of State John Kerry continues to speak with Netanyahu about Iran.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said on Sunday that "the strategic relationship between Israel and the U.S. runs deep, and as part of the close ties, this week National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen will meet with his White House counterpart Susan Rice and with Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman."

The limiting of the breadth of information being passed to Israel comes amid peaking tensions between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office, fanned by the issue of Netanyahu's planned speech before Congress. House Speaker John Boehner threw more fuel on the fire on Sunday when he told Fox News that he had asked Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer not to inform the Obama administration about their contacts regarding Netanyahu’s planned speech to a joint session of Congress, to avoid White House “interference.”

“I wanted to make sure there is no interference,” Boehner said on Fox’s Sunday morning program. “There is no secret here about the animosity that this White House has for Netanyahu, and I didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity.”

Boehner’s remarks contradict the earlier claim made by him and his staff that he had given the White House sufficient warning about the Netanyahu invitation. In reality, they updated the administration about the speech only an hour before announcing it to the press.

President Reuven Rivlin added his voice to the critics of Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress on Sunday.

“If we find it necessary to speak on relevant international platforms about the risks and dangerous threats facing us, then we are required even more to speak directly, patiently and in Hebrew to our citizens at home,” Rivlin said.

“The citizens of our own country take precedence. What we have to say, let us say, at least, here at home as well.

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