Israel denies Netanyahu urged Kerry to back Syria deal

Israel denies Netanyahu urged Kerry to back Syria deal

Prime Minister’s Office says Wall Street Journal report on phone conversation with US secretary of state is ‘untrue’ and ‘erroneous’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Monday denied a report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US Secretary of State John Kerry last week that he should try to reach a deal with Russia to confiscate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal as an alternative to a threatened US strike on the Assad regime.

According to the report Monday in the Wall Street Journal, based on information from US and Middle East officials who claimed to have been informed of the details of the conversation, Kerry called Netanyahu on September 11 and the Israeli leader told him that he didn’t think that Russia was bluffing about its plan for Syria. Netanyahu also reportedly told Kerry he thought a deal was possible.

However, the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel Monday that “the comments attributed to the prime minister from his conversion with Secretary Kerry… are untrue. The report in the Wall Street Journal is erroneous.”

US and Russian officials reached an ambitious agreement over the weekend calling for an inventory of Syria’s chemical weapons program within a week, with the program eradicated by mid-2014.

On Sunday, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials expressed cautious optimism over the deal, saying it would be tested by Syria’s actions.

Kerry later Sunday met with Netanyahu to discuss the Syrian chemical weapons deal, during a short stop in the country.

On Monday, Kerry continued his diplomatic push to gain international support for the deal, briefing some of the United States’ closest allies, many of whom are suspicious about the Moscow-brokered proposal.

A day after visiting Israel, Kerry met with top officials from France, Britain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who had pressed for military strikes on Syria after an August 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds.

A UN resolution under discussion Monday would detail how Syria can secure and destroy its stockpile.

An official close to France’s President Francois Hollande said there was firm agreement among France, Britain and the United States that the resolution must be “strong, robust, precise” and must include a calendar of benchmarks for Assad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Hollande also agreed to continue to work toward a political solution with the Syrian opposition, the officials said.

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