US President Donald Trump on Monday said he did not mention Israel in his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, during which the American leader allegedly disclosed classified information drawn from Israeli intelligence.
“Just so you understand: I never mentioned the word or the name Israel, never mentioned, in that conversation,” Trump said at the end of a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. “They’re all saying I did, so you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.”
Meeting Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office on May 10, Trump shared intelligence about an Islamic State threat involving laptops carried on airplanes, according to a senior US official.
ABC News reported that the information came specifically from a spy embedded in the terrorist group on behalf of Israel, and that Trump’s reported leak had placed the person’s life at risk.
It was never alleged that Trump had disclosed that Israel was the source of the tip-off, just that he had conveyed the information.
Trump’s statement was seen by some as confirmation that the source was in fact Israeli.
Though Washington and Jerusalem have publicly brushed aside reports of the incident, behind the scenes top Israeli defense officials are said to be seething and concerned by the president’s actions.
The comments came as a short photo op with the two leaders appeared to draw to a close.
After the two stood up and shook hands, Netanyahu briefly mentioned that Israel-US intelligence cooperation was “terrific.”
That spurred Trump to ask reporters exiting the room to come back so he could seemingly defend his behavior in the meeting with the Russians.
Earlier on Monday, aboard Air Force One en route to Israel, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also addressed the alleged leak in a briefing to reporters.
“I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for,” he said.
“To the extent the Israelis have any questions, or clarification, I’m sure we’re happy to provide that,” he added.
Earlier this month, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said no sources were compromised during the Trump-Lavrov meeting.
“At no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not discuss any military operations that were not already publicly known,” he said.
In his brief remarks at the King David Hotel ahead of his working meeting with Netanyahu, Trump continued to skewer Iran, saying it should be grateful to the US for the benefits it received under the 2015 nuclear deal.
“We gave them wealth and prosperity… and an ability to continue with terror,” Trump said.
Netanyahu thanked him for taking a stance against Iran a day earlier in a speech the US president gave in Saudi Arabia.
Trump said he was “honored” to be the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall earlier on Monday.
Trump, who landed Monday afternoon for a whirlwind 28-hour visit, will dine with Netanyahu at 7:30 p.m. at the Prime Minister’s Residence, where Trump and Netanyahu will be joined by their wives.
On Tuesday morning, Trump will head to Bethlehem at 10 for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He may visit the Church of the Nativity in the city.
The Israeli part of his visit then resumes with a 1 p.m. wreath-laying ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.
At 2 p.m. Trump is due to move on to deliver an address at the Israel Museum located across the street from the Knesset. This is set to be the main speech of his Israel trip.
The US president will then return to Ben Gurion Airport and lift off for Italy, and the Vatican leg of his trip, at 4 p.m.
Tamar Pileggi, agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.