US Accuses Israel of Inaccurate Leaks Ahead New Iran-US Nuclear Talks

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Published Thursday, February 19, 2015

The United States accused Israel on Wednesday of distorting its position in the Iran nuclear talks through selective leaks, intensifying tensions before a controversial US visit by Israel's prime minister.

"We see that there is a continued practice of cherry-picking specific pieces of information and using them out of context to distort the negotiating position of the United States," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

"There's no question that some of the things that the Israelis have said in characterizing our negotiating position have not been accurate," Earnest said.

Earnest was discussing a New York Times report that cited Israeli officials saying the United States had limited what it was sharing with them about the talks and a European official saying he had been warned by Washington to be careful what he shared for fear of it being selectively leaked.

The rare US criticism occurred ahead of a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran before a joint session of Congress at the invitation of Republican House Speaker John Boehner. The address is scheduled for March 3.

Boehner's invitation has caused consternation in Israel and the United States, with detractors saying Netanyahu, a hawk on Iran, is working with the Republicans to demonstrate their opposition to President Barack Obama's Iran policy.

Obama, a Democrat who has frosty relations with Netanyahu, has declined to meet the Israeli prime minister on his visit, citing what he said is US protocol not to meet world leaders
before national elections. The Israeli election is set for March 17.

Boehner announced the invitation last month without first consulting with the White House, a move many Democrats considered an insult to Obama.

Democrats have also accused Republicans of breaking protocol by inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress without consulting them.

Congressional Republicans have insisted that the invitation to Netanyahu was appropriate. They have introduced at least two resolutions formally welcoming him to Washington and accused
Democrats of playing politics.

Asked about Earnest's statements, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, Aaron Sagui, declined comment.

The United States and five other major powers are seeking to negotiate an agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Washington suspects the program is designed to develop nuclear weapons; Iran denies this, saying it is for peaceful purposes.

US negotiators will meet in the coming days in Geneva with their Iranian counterparts for a new round of talks on reining in Iran's nuclear program, American officials said on Wednesday.

Chief negotiator Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her team traveled to Switzerland on Thursday, the State Department said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and top US diplomat John Kerry would meet for the new talks in Geneva on Friday and Saturday, an Iranian diplomat said on Thursday.

"These bilateral consultations will take place in the context of the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran," the US State Department said in a statement, adding the European Union's deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid would also join the talks.

Two deadlines for a permanent agreement have already been missed since a November 2013 interim deal.

Negotiators are now working toward reaching a political framework by March 31, with the final technical details to be laid out in a comprehensive accord by June 30.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed that his country would resist global sanctions imposed over its nuclear program, saying that Iran might respond to international pressure by cutting back gas exports.

"If sanctions are to be the way, the Iranian nation can also do it. A big collection of the world's oil and gas is in Iran, so Iran if necessary can hold back on the gas that Europe and the world is so dependent on," Khamenei said.

Disagreements in the talks between Iran and P5+1— composed of the United States, France, Germany, UK, China and Russia — center on the extent of nuclear activities Iran would be allowed to continue and the timetable for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear efforts.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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