Oh what a night. The divide between the U.S. and Israel just gets wider and wider. The White House and the State Department yesterday said openly that the Obama administration is restricting the information it gives to Israel about the Iran talks because Israel is misrepresenting the talks in its efforts to derail them. There is “no question that some of the things that the Israelis have said in characterizing our negotiating position have not been accurate,” the White House press secretary says.
A friend asks, Has the US ever publicly stated that an ally was a liar? AP’s Matt Lee, who said at State yesterday that the Obama administration is saying that Israel is “lying,” calls the statements “extraordinary” in his article:
In extraordinary admissions that reflect increasingly strained ties between the U.S. and Israel, the White House and State Department said they were not sharing everything from the negotiations with the Israelis and complained that Israeli officials had misrepresented what they had been told in the past. Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials privately blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself for “changing the dynamic” of previously robust information-sharing by politicizing it.
And meantime, it turns out from the State Department briefing that no one is going to be around to meet Netanyahu when he comes to town to give his March 3 speech. The president won’t meet him. The VP won’t meet him. And now the Secretary of State will be out of town.
Let’s go to the record. From Josh Earnest’s press briefing yesterday at the White House: We’re going to continue to consult with Israel about the Iran talks, but.
we’ve also been very clear about the fact that the United States is not going to be in a position of negotiating this agreement in public, and particularly when 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. So there is an obligation when you’re participating in these kinds of negotiations to ensure that those consultations and that those negotiations are carried out in good faith. And that means giving negotiators the room and the space to negotiate.
Q So you are consulting, but you are worried about cherry picking? So does that still limit the information that you provide during those consultations?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, I obviously am not going to be able to get into the details of those conversations, I think for obvious reasons, but I think it is fair to say that the United States is mindful of the need to not negotiate in public and ensure that information that’s discussed at the negotiating table is not taken out of context and publicized in a way that distorts a negotiating position of the United States and our allies.
Q And you think that distortion and cherry picking has occurred — has been done by the Israelis?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there’s no question that some of the things that the Israelis have said in characterizing our negotiating position have not been accurate. There’s no question about that.
The State Department briefing yesterday reflects the new cherrypicking reality. The spokesperson is Jen Psaki (who today is reported to be going over to the White House to lead the communications team there).
QUESTION: I understand that you share a great deal, but you’re saying that you don’t share everything. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So you are withholding some details.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So can you say if this – is this a new thing? Has this been in place, this decision been around since the beginning?
MS. PSAKI: We have long taken steps to ensure that these negotiations remain private….
QUESTION: Okay. Your colleague at the White House, when asked the same kind of questions that I’m asking right now, said that there was a – the Administration had a problem with people – he didn’t identify them – but cherry picking specific bits of information —
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct.
QUESTION: — and releasing them. Can you say —
MS. PSAKI: 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.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that the Israeli Government is lying about the talks. Is that correct? Or they’ve been misinformed because maybe you haven’t been telling them everything?
MS. PSAKI: I think there’s a selective sharing of information, Matt.
Notice Psaki doesn’t say Matt Lee is wrong when he says, lying.
Then this back and forth about Secretary of State John Kerry traveling when the Israel lobby AIPAC has its conference in DC. So is everyone fleeing Washington when Netanyahu comes to town?
QUESTION: I was looking through the list of confirmed speakers at the AiPAC conference… And I – so far I didn’t see any indication that the Secretary may be addressing the conference. Is there any plan to? I know in the past he has, or a Secretary has.
MS. PSAKI: He has in the past. I expect we certainly will have representation. I don’t think we’re at a point of announcing who that will be yet.
QUESTION: If the Secretary doesn’t actually take part, is this because of the circumstances surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States, which, of course, have been really overtaken by the fact that he’s going to address Congress on March 3rd?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve already been clear that we don’t have to plan – we don’t have plans, I should say, to have a meeting. I think the more likely reason is that the Secretary is probably going to be out of town, which I don’t think surprises any of you, given his overseas travel schedule. We’re still working out the next couple of weeks.
QUESTION: Wait, the Secretary is probably going to be out of town when?… For the entire AiPAC conference?
MS. PSAKI: It’s only a couple of days, Matt. We have a trip we’re working on for early-March, late-February. So —
QUESTION: That’s funny, because the Vice President also had some unspecified travel plans that would prevent him from being at Congress to hear the prime minister’s speech.
MS. PSAKI: Well, given I think —
QUESTION: Is everyone fleeing —
MS. PSAKI: — we have all spent days if not months on a plane, I don’t think it should surprise anyone that the chief diplomat might be overseas.
QUESTION: Well, right, but – yeah. But it just seems to be a little unusual that both the Secretary of State and the Vice President are – have determined right now that they’re going to be out of town or out of the country. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t look at it in those terms. I believe the Vice President’s attending the inauguration for the new Government of Panama, I believe…
QUESTION: So it wouldn’t be seen – it shouldn’t be seeing it as a snub because the prime minister will be addressing the same conference?
MS. PSAKI: I think, again, the Secretary of State never speaks at this every single year. We’ll – I expect we’ll have a representation there. I would leave it at that.
QUESTION: I just remember being with the Secretary at the inauguration of the Panamanian prime minister a few months ago.
MS. PSAKI: Perhaps that’s not the right information. I’m sure you can check the Vice President’s schedule on his website.
QUESTION: Might you invent a country that he could go to if there isn’t any – (laughter) —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think inaugurations for new leaders are invented, Matt.
At Peace Now, Yossi Alpher says that the Netanyahu speech has inflicted serious damage on the US Israel relationship, but Netanyahu’s game is bigger than the Obama administration. He seems tough to the Israeli electorate. And
Netanyahu knows that Israelis place high value on the US-Israel relationship as a pillar of Israeli security. But he apparently believes he can persuade voters that the “real” America, as represented by Republicans, evangelicals, and AIPAC, is behind him and waiting for him to lead the campaign against a bad agreement with Iran.
Indeed, it appears that the Republican leadership and financial backers of both the Republicans and Netanyahu, like Sheldon Adelson, are by now somehow counting on Netanyahu to represent their position negating an Iran deal. In this sense, Netanyahu’s insistence on going through with the speech represents not only his message to Israeli voters but his close Republican political and financial links.