The US has stopped updating Israel on progress in talks with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program, Channel 2 reported Sunday. The report was quickly denied in Israel and the US.
According to the TV report, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice has cut off contact with Israeli National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen on the talks. It also quoted chief US negotiator Wendy Sherman as saying that she will no longer keep Israel informed of the attack.
The channel characterized the move as revenge for Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress next month, which has raised the ire of the Obama administration.
But a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the report is false.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there were meetings between Israeli and US officials on the issue in Munich last week, documents were exchanged and more meetings have been planned. The official said Cohen is going to Washington for a visit as planned in the coming days.
“The strategic ties between Israel and the US run deep.” said the Prime Minister’s Office in a statement. “Yossi Cohen, the head of the Israel National Security Council, will go this week to Washington to attend a conference, where he will meet them both.”
“This report is patently false,” US National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said. “National Security Advisor Rice maintains regular contact with her Israeli counterpart National Security Advisor Cohen on the full range of issues of mutual concern to our nations, and will in fact meet with him later this week at the White House,” Baskey said. “We also continue our frequent and routine contact at various professional levels within the intelligence, military, and diplomatic spheres.”
A senior State Department official delivered the same message: “Conversations continue with Israel on the Iran nuclear negotiations,” the official said. “Under Secretary Sherman met with Israeli NSA Cohen and Minister for Intelligence and Strategic Planning [Yuval] Steinitz in Munich and will see NSA Cohen again this week (the Iran negotiations were obviously the main topic of conversation). And Secretary [John] Kerry continues his conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu about this issue, as has always been the case.”
Diplomatic relations between the two allies have reached new lows in past weeks over the invitation to address Congress, which bypassed the White House. Netanyahu accepted an invitation last month from Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the US House of Representatives, to speak to Congress, but the White House complained that Boehner had not cleared the invitation with President Barack Obama or Democrats in Congress.
A number of Jewish groups have said the visit is unwise and have called on Netanyahu and Boehner to postpone it at least until after Israel’s March 17 elections. Netanyahu says he is determined to go, while some Democratic lawmakers have said they would not attend the speech.
Boehner said on Sunday that he invited Netanyahu to address Congress without White House approval in order to avoid “interference,” and accused the Obama administration of “animosity” against the Israeli leader
Boehner said he felt it was important to do an end-run around White House meddling, amid a raging debate over whether to soften sanctions on Tehran.
“I wanted to make sure that there was no interference,” he said about his decision to issue the invitation to the Israeli leader.
“There’s no secret here in Washington about the animosity that this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Boehner told the Fox News Sunday television program, adding, “frankly, I didn’t want them getting in the way.”
“It’s an important message that the American people need to hear,” Boehner, the top House Republican, added.
“I’m glad that he’s coming and I’m looking forward to what he has to say.”
Obama, a Democrat, has refused to meet Netanyahu during his Washington trip next month, saying diplomatic protocol forbids him from doing so, since the Israeli leader is up for re-election on March 17.
The two leaders have had a famously frosty relationship, which has grown even more tense as a result of the disagreement over Netanyahu’s upcoming speech.
Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — known as the P5+1 — have been seeking a comprehensive accord with Iran that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb in return for an easing of economic sanctions.
Netanyahu has vowed — despite the presidential snub and pushback from Congressional Democrats — to deliver his speech to Congress as negotiators work toward the political outline of a deal by March 31.
The cut-off point for the technical details of a comprehensive accord is June 30.
— Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.