US reportedly complains to Israel over leaks to media about Iran nuclear talks

US National Security Adviser Sullivan said to express frustration to Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi over Netanyahu’s comments on potential new deal with Tehran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on January 19, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reportedly accused Israeli officials of leaking information to the media about ongoing talks between the US and Iran.

A report in the Axios news site on Wednesday cited three US and Israeli officials discussing a recent conversation between Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.

According to the report, Sullivan expressed “frustrations” to Hanegbi about recent comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a potential deal between the US and Iran. Sullivan also reportedly complained that information leaked to the press about any US-Iran talks are inaccurate.

Last week, Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting that Israel opposes any interim agreement between the US and Iran regarding the latter’s nuclear program.

“Our most important mission is to curb Iran’s nuclear program,” Netanyahu said at the time. “First of all, [we oppose] the original agreement,” the premier said of the 2015 nuclear deal, which the US pulled out of in 2018. “Our principled opposition contributes to the fact that the US isn’t returning to the [JCPOA].”

“We also tell [the US] that even… ‘mini agreements,’ in our opinion, do not serve our goals, and we oppose those as well.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 18, 2023. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Netanyahu’s comments came days after The New York Times — citing three unnamed senior Israeli officials, a US official and several Iranian officials — reported that the US and Iran are seeking to reach an informal, limited understanding that would include a pledge by Tehran not to enrich uranium beyond its current level of 60 percent purity, to better cooperate with UN nuclear inspectors, to stop its proxy terror groups from attacking US contractors in Iraq and Syria, to avoid providing Russia with ballistic missiles, and to release three American-Iranians held in the Islamic Republic.

In return, Washington would reportedly promise not to tighten its existing economic sanctions, unfreeze billions in Iranian assets held abroad alongside assurances that the money will only be used for humanitarian purposes, and not pursue punitive resolutions against the Islamic Republic at the United Nations or at the IAEA.

The prime minister’s remarks also came a few days after the Haaretz daily quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that Jerusalem was concerned that Washington planned to reach understandings with Tehran but not formalize them into an agreement, in part so it would not have to be brought to Congress for a vote.

Biden administration officials denied this, telling Haaretz that “the president rose through Congress and works with Congress more than most presidents. The idea that he would try to bypass it is not really indicative of the behavior of the administration.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York that there is no current deal on the table.

“There is no agreement in the offing, even as we continue to be willing to explore diplomatic paths,” he said. “We’ll see by their actions,” Blinken added of the future relationship, calling on Iran to choose to “not take actions that further escalate the tensions” with the United States and in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Wednesday, June 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

A diplomat familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Monday that recent indirect talks with Iran have centered around the release of American detainees held by Tehran, not nuclear enrichment. The US is prepared to allow Iran to access several billion dollars in funds currently held by countries abroad for humanitarian purposes and to pay off debts on a case-by-case basis.

Blinken said that the Biden administration had made a “good-faith effort” with European powers as well as rivals China and Russia to return to a broader nuclear deal and that for a time “that looked possible.”

However, “Iran either couldn’t or wouldn’t do what was necessary to get back into compliance,” he said.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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