National Security

U.S. says Israel rebuffed talks on security cooperation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s harshly criticized an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, has rebuffed repeated efforts by the Obama administration to open talks on intensifying security cooperation, the administration said Thursday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s harshly criticized an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, has rebuffed repeated efforts by the Obama administration to open talks on intensifying security cooperation, the administration said Thursday. AP

Israel has repeatedly rebuffed offers by the United States to discuss boosting security cooperation in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, Obama administration officials said Thursday.

The Israeli cold shoulder is the latest measure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wrath over the nuclear accord, underscoring the unprecedented tensions that have grown between the United States and its closest ally in the Middle East.

A senior Israeli official, responding Friday, declined to comment specifically on whether Israel had refused the offer of talks. But speaking anonynously because he was not authorized to speak publicly, he used the occasion to blast the agreement.

“If this deal with Iran is going to make everything better and safer, why is there a need to offer Israel and other American allies in the region compensation?” he said. “If there’s a desire to offer compensation, there’s an implicit recognition that this deal makes things less secure, not more secure.”

The accord, reached last month after two years of talks with Iran by the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, is designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons by imposing strict limits on its nuclear program. In return, Iran is to receive relief from sanctions that have devastated its economy.

We have offered the Israeli leadership repeatedly to hold these consultations, but they have made clear privately and publicly that they do not want to engage in this conversation.

Senior Obama administration official

Netanyahu, the leader of the only Middle Eastern power with a nuclear arsenal, has joined American conservative groups and Republican lawmakers in a campaign to persuade Congress to kill the deal by blocking an easing of U.S. sanctions on Iran. Netanyahu’s role represents nearly unprecedented interference in domestic U.S. affairs by a foreign leader.

To ease Israel’s concern, President Barack Obama has offered to boost U.S. security cooperation with Israel against Iran, mentioning his proposal as recently as Wednesday in a speech at American University in Washington.

But Israel has yet to agree to opening talks, the Obama administration said.

“We have offered the Israeli leadership repeatedly to hold these consultations, but they have made clear privately and publicly that they do not want to engage in this conversation at this juncture,” a senior administration official said in a statement that was emailed to McClatchy.

“We remain open to holding intensive discussions between our national security teams on how to strengthen the U.S.-Israel security relationship even further in the near term, building on the fact that this deal removes the threat of a nuclear Iran, and how we can enhance our already robust work to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The Israeli refusal to discuss new security arrangements with the United States stands in contrast to that of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Saudi Arabia-dominated security organization that has raised many of the same concerns as Israel about the deal: that lifting sanctions will free up funds that Iran could use to bolster the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and support groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.

If this deal with Iran is going to make everything better and safer, why is there a need to offer Israel and other American allies in the region compensation?

Senior Israeli official

But the Gulf group endorsed the accord this week after working out details of new U.S. security and military aid.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest also referred to Israel’s unwillingness to discuss U.S. security assistance after being asked at a briefing Thursday about a replacement to a 10-year, $30 billion security assistance accord that Obama wants to conclude with the Jewish state before he leaves office in January 2017.

Talks on replacing the current agreement have “been pretty one-sided,” said Earnest. “There’s been a reluctance on the part of many of our national security teams’ (Israeli) counterparts to engage in that discussion.”

The senior administration official noted that Obama and Netanyahu had “committed” to reaching a new agreement before Obama leaves office in talks the leaders held in 2013.

“No such detailed discussions at a senior level have occurred recently,” said the senior administration official.

Obama listed a wide range of potential areas for cooperation with Israel in a speech Wednesday in which he fiercely defended the Iran nuclear deal.

“We can enhance support for areas like missile defense, information sharing, interdiction, all to help meet Israel’s pressing security needs,” Obama said. “And to provide a hedge against any additional activities that Iran may engage in as a consequence of sanctions relief.”

But he said Israel’s concerns about the agreement did not undercut his confidence in it. “A nuclear armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America, and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief,” Obama said. “I recognize that prime minister Netanyahu disagrees, disagrees strongly. I do not doubt his sincerity, but I believe he is wrong.”

McClatchy special correspondent Daniella Cheslow in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Jonathan S. Landay: 202-383-6012, @JonathanLanday

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

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