European officials have confirmed that the US State Department cautioned them against providing Israel with sensitive information on the current round of negotiations with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The account came amid vehement denials by the White House and State Department that they had stopped updating Jerusalem on the progress in the talks, even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted Monday that Israel was indeed being kept in the dark.
The report quoted an unnamed European official involved in negotiations who said he was told recently by the State Department’s Wendy Sherman, the lead American negotiator with Iran, not to disclose too much information to the Israelis because “the details could be twisted to undermine a deal.”
Another unnamed State Department official speaking on Sherman’s behalf noted that talk with Israel was encouraged, so long as it remained clear “that the negotiation should take place in the negotiating room,” a reference to the fact that Israel is not directly involved in the talks.
The comments echoed those of an Israeli official interviewed for the report who quipped that he received only “empty” briefings on the looming deal, signalling perhaps a further chill in ties between the Obama administration and the Jewish state that The New York Times compared to “posting notes to each other on a refrigerator door.”
Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that the Iranian nuclear program is an existential threat to Israel and that Tehran is intent on developing nuclear weapons to use against the Jewish state.
To that effect, Netanyahu vowed to go ahead with a speech before the US Congress on March 3 to discuss the looming nuclear deal, raising the ire of the White House, some US congressmen and his political opponents in Israel.
The report quoted another European official who said that US Secretary of State John Kerry was “fuming about [the] Israeli leaks” following a report Sunday on Channel 2 to the effect that the administration has been withholding information from Israel.
According to the TV report, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice had cut off contact with Israeli National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, while Sherman was quoted as saying that she will no longer keep Israel informed either.
The report was hurriedly denied by both US and Israeli officials.
Kerry, who has been leading the negotiations along with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javad Zarif, argued that it was in no one’s interest to negotiate in public.
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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report