US official leaves Israel without understanding on Iran

Wendy Sherman was in Jerusalem to brief Israelis on substance of talks with Tehran, smooth out disagreements

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (photo credit: CC-BY/dbking/Flickr)
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (photo credit: CC-BY/dbking/Flickr)

The small US delegation led by Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman that arrived in Israel Sunday for meetings with senior government officials on the recent round of Western negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, left Israel overnight Sunday-Monday without reaching an understanding with Jerusalem on an emerging deal with Tehran, Army Radio reported early Monday morning.

Earlier, a senior American official who is intimately familiar with the talks in Jerusalem said that the disagreement between the United States and Israel is tactical in nature and Washington remains committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The official was trying to assuage fears that Washington might back a deal that would compromise Israel’s security.

Briefing Israeli journalists in a Jerusalem hotel, the American official said that even after limited sanctions relief in the framework of an interim deal, as proposed by the West, Iran’s economy would continue to deteriorate. The official also said it wasn’t the French but the Iranians who had rejected a temporary deal Saturday in Geneva, contrary to previous reports.

“The United States and Israel have worked very closely and consulted often, in the way to proceed forward. Some days we may disagree on tactics,” the senior official said, “but we absolutely agree on the objective and we absolutely agree that we need a comprehensive agreement and we hope to get one very soon.”

Sherman, the third-highest official in the US State Department, served as head of the US delegation to the talks in Geneva over the weekend, conducted between Iran and the P5+1 powers (the five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) over Iran’s nuclear program.

Accompanied by State Department officials, Sherman met with Israeli National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen and other senior officials from the Foreign Ministry and security establishment. She did not meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“She will be consulting with Government of Israel counterparts about the P5+1 negotiations in Geneva, and continuing our close coordination with Israel about our ongoing efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” an American official said before the talks.

Netanyahu on Sunday continued his campaign against a deal on Iran’s nuclear program and his war of words with US Secretary John Kerry Sunday night, this time at the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly in Jerusalem.

“What is being offered now, and I’m continuously updated in detail,” he said — it was an allusion to Kerry’s assertion earlier in the day that Netanyahu may not be aware of the terms of the proposed deal — “What is being proposed now is a deal in which Iran retains all” of its uranium enrichment capacity.

Despite reported progress, the latest round of discussions, conducted over the weekend in Geneva, ended without a deal after a proposed agreement was questioned by France. The sides are to meet again on November 20. Netanyahu has been bitterly critical of the emerging deal, and on Friday publicly urged Kerry not to sign it.

In an interview with Channel 10 last week, Sherman said the US would inform and consult with Israel about any nuclear deal world powers arrive at with Iran before it is carried out, because the Jewish state’s security is paramount.

“Whatever agreement we reach Israel will know about, understand and consulted with us on, because Israel’s security is bedrock and there is no closer security relationship than what we have with each other,” she said.

Israel has strongly opposed any deal that would leave Iran with the capability to quickly construct a nuclear weapon, leading Netanyahu and other officials to publicly come out against what they saw as a flawed potential agreement over the weekend.

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