The chasm between the Obama administration and Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is widening following suspicions that the prime minister leaked details about the ongoing U.S.-Iran nuclear talks, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius
said on Monday.
The Obama administration has decided to reduce the sensitive information given to Israel about the talks after it became concerned that Netanyahu's office leaked details that included a U.S. offer that would allow Iran to enrich uranium through 6,500 or more centrifuges, Ignatius writes.
The centrifuge numbers were part of a package including the size of Iran's stockpile, said Ignatius, and the Obama administration felt the report was misleading because a deal that allows advanced centrifuges would bring Iran closer to building a nuclear bomb than a deal permitting older machines and a smaller stockpile.
According to a report Sunday by Israel's Channel 2 news, the Obama administration cut off all communications about the Iran talks, but National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey denied those claims to The Jerusalem Post.
"This report is patently false," Baskey said. "We also continue our frequent and routine contact at various professional levels within the intelligence, military, and diplomatic spheres."
The television station had said that the briefings were being halted before Netanyahu's appearance before Congress, when he is expected to criticize the ongoing talks.
Another State Department official said that Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is holding continued meetings with Israeli leaders concerning the Iran talks.
"And Secretary [of State John] Kerry continues his conversations with Prime Minister
Netanyahu about this issue, as has always been the case," the official continued.
The report was just one of many criticized by the White House, including one in January in which a news network claimed the United States had given into to 80 percent of Iran's demands, reports The Post.
Philip Gordon, the Middle East director for the National Security Council, also has meetings planned for Monday with Israeli national security adviser Yossi Cohen and other senior officials, Ignatius points out, quoting sources. The discussion will likely include Iran policy but not the latest information on U.S. strategy, he writes.
The latest breach between Obama and Netanyahu began around Jan. 12, when Netanyahu called Obama, who asked him to hold back diplomatically for several months while negotiators worked on a deal, through limits on centrifuges and stockpiles, to extend a breakout period Iran would need for building a bomb to more than one year, according to the Post.
But, Ignatius writes, Netanyahu reportedly responded that a year would not be long enough and returned to insisting that Iran would not be permitted to keep centrifuges or enrich uranium.
After the call, relations unraveled quickly, Ignatius writes, and worsened further when House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress without first clearing the appearance with the White House.
Then the leaks about the nuclear talks surfaced, with the Times of Israel reporting an unnamed senior Israeli official told a Channel 10 television news team that the United States had "agreed to 80 percent of Iran’s demands," and Channel 2 reported that the U.S. offer was for 6,500 centrifuges.
Netanyahu's office said that the "details of the last round of negotiations are known in Washington, Paris, London, Moscow, Beijing, Berlin and Tehran," write Ignatius. "It is perplexing that a decision would be made to try to keep those details a secret from Jerusalem when Israel is threatened by Iran with annihilation and its very survival could be threatened by a bad deal.”
Netanyahu is to speak to Congress on March 3, and is running for re-election on March 17, a week before a deadline to reach a framework deal in the Iran negotiations.
In addition to Iran, the Obama administration also fears that Netanyahu is ignoring a new blowup with the Palestinians. According to U.S. intelligence reports, the Palestinian Authority could run out of money as early as next month, creating a crisis for the region.
"This is a dangerous issue," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told The Jerusalem Post
on Friday. "Israel is withholding our money and this means that the 'State of Palestine' will face a crisis."
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