Sunday, February 15, 2015

US to halt updates to Israel on Iran nuclear talks in response to Netanyahu speech plans

The Unites States will no longer provide regular updates to the Israeli government on the status of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, Channel 2 reported on Sunday.

The move is the Obama administration's response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to appear before a joint session of Congress, during which he is expected to discuss sanctions against the Islamic Republic. 

Channel 2 reported that the White House is incensed over the Israeli government's conduct in recent weeks regarding the Iranian issue, believing that Jerusalem has taken a sensitive issue with implications for national security and used it for political gain while interfering in American domestic politics.

According to Channel 2, the Obama administration is also angry over Israeli officials' distorted use of information about the progress of the Iran nuclear talks.

Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of state for political affairs, informed her counterparts in Jerusalem that she would no longer provide updates on the Iran nuclear negotiations due to what Washington perceives as untoward use of the information for domestic Israeli political purposes.

The administration has also instructed Susan Rice, Washington's ambassador to the United Nations, to cease communications with Netanyahu's national security adviser, Yossi Cohen.

The Prime Minister's Office responded to the Channel 2 report by saying that Israel and the US continue to maintain "deep strategic relations" and that Cohen is due to fly to the US soon to take part in a conference, during which he is scheduled to meet with both Sherman and Rice.

Earlier on Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner said he made a politically calculated decision not to inform the White House of his invitation to Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, fearing US President Barack Obama would attempt to obstruct the speech.

Speaking to Fox News, Boehner said that Netanyahu's message on Iran was important for the American people to hear— and that the White House would prefer they not hear his position, which stands in opposition to the president's.

"I wanted to make sure that there was no interference," Boehner said, referring to the White House. "There’s no secret here in Washington about the animosity that this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu. I frankly didn’t want that getting in the way, quashing what I thought was a real opportunity."

The host of "Fox News Sunday," Chris Wallace, has been critical of the speaker's moves in the past, and asked Boehner if he has turned the critical issue of US-Israel relations into a political football.

"I have not," he said. "The fact is that we had every right to do what we did... I wanted the prime minister to come here."

Michael Wilner contributed to this report.

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