A day after the U.S. vehemently denied that they’ve cut Israel out of Iran briefings, the Obama administration admitted that for months they have withheld “classified negotiating details” from Israel.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that although contacts with Israeli officials have and will continue, the Israelis are not being fully confided in.
“I think there are some details that obviously we have concern about being in public, to respect and protect the negotiations, and those are details that we take steps to ensure are not — don’t get into the public,” Psaki said. “I think we share a great deal. Obviously, there are steps we take, including what we share and how we consult with our counterparts, including the Israelis.”
“I think it’s safe to say that not everything you’re hearing from the Israeli government is an accurate reflection of the details of the talks,” Psaki added. And for that reason, “classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors.”
Officials in Washington accused Israel of “cherry picking” in its public complaints over the diplomatic effort.
An Israeli official responding to the “cherry-picking” charge said that “we see no way that 6,000 or 7,000 centrifuges can be okay, irrespective of other elements in the package.”
The official also noted that “in the past we understood from our interlocutors from the P5+1 that the goal of the negotiation was that Iran would be kept years away from a breakout capacity.” Then, he said, that time period was changed to “more than a year.”
“What we understand now is that today they are talking about a year,” he said. “If true, that is a very problematic dynamic.”
The admission came just hours after European officials confirmed that the U.S. State Department indicated it does not want Israel to have details of the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, according to a report in The New York Times on Tuesday. Until then, the U.S had been denying any change in policy toward briefing Israel.
An unnamed European official involved in the negotiations was quoted as saying that he was told recently by the State Department’s No. 3, Wendy Sherman, to be careful about confiding in the Israelis because “the details could be twisted to undermine a deal.”
Another unnamed official speaking on Sherman’s behalf admitted that talk with Israel was encouraged, so long as it remained clear “that the negotiation should take place in the negotiating room.”
That was not inconsistent with reports that U.S. officials and their Israeli counterparts continue to consult on Iran, though the contents of those consultations may not be what they once were, due to Washington’s concern about leaks.
Another European official said that Secretary of State John Kerry was “fuming about Israeli leaks” in a recent conversation. But a State Department official downplayed that, saying that Mr. Kerry, like other senior officials, regularly fumed about leaks, and observed that it was in no one’s interest to negotiate in public.
One Israeli official commented, “We get briefings, but they are empty.”
“It makes us question in Israel, are they open with us or are they trying to hide from us?” said Gen. Yaakov Amidror, the Israeli former national security adviser, and noted that the bilateral relationship has indeed been badly damaged.
Both U.S. and Israeli officials on the record have denied that there has been any reduction in the cooperation and coordination between the two sides.
With that, though, high-level officials on both sides have acknowledged concern that the exchange of information will not be as good as in the past for fear that the information shared might be used by the other side to pursue their own political agenda — with Israel using the information it gets from the negotiators to lobby against the deal, and the U.S. using intelligence information provided by Israel to push the deal forward.
Nevertheless, the high level meetings continue between U.S. and Israeli officials on Iran, with National Security Council head Yossi Cohen currently in Washington for planned meetings with his White House counterpart, Susan Rice, and the State Department’s top Iranian negotiator, Wendy Sherman.