AP’s Matt Lee: US Officials Say Netanyahu Trying to Destroy Iran Negotiations

I haven’t chimed in yet on the political drama that has been building around the approaching deadline in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and the massive breach of protocol by John Boehner in inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress just before the deadline (and just before elections in Israel). More recent rumblings on that front had the US already stating Obama would not meet with Netanyahu, along with suggestions that both John Kerry and Joe Biden are likely to be out of the country when Netanyahu is in Washington. Further, hints were coming out that the US is becoming increasingly irritated with Bibi over his leaking of information that the US has shared on how negotiations with Iran are proceeding.

AP’s Matt Lee shed much more light on these issues yesterday. He forced State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki to confirm that the US has now started withholding “classified” parts of the negotiations from Israel. Lee went beyond what he was able to pry out during Psaki’s briefing, producing confirmation that the US now feels that Netanyahu is determined to prevent any final deal between the P5+1 and Iran:

The Obama administration said Wednesday it is withholding from Israel some sensitive details of its nuclear negotiations with Iran because it is worried that Israeli government officials have leaked information to try to scuttle the talks — and will continue to do so.

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.

Working behind the scenes, Lee was able to get unnamed officials to fill in more detail:

But while Earnest and Psaki said the limitations on information sharing were longstanding, U.S. officials more directly involved in the talks said the decision to withhold the most sensitive details of the negotiations dated back only several weeks.

Those officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the administration believes Netanyahu, who is facing a March 17 election at home, has made a political decision to try to destroy the negotiations rather than merely insist on a good deal. This, they said, had led to politically motivated leaks from Israeli officials and made it impossible to continue to share all details of the talks, particularly as Netanyahu has not backed down on his vow to argue against a nuclear deal when he speaks to Congress.

And here’s where it gets really interesting. Pushing on the issue of just what Israel has been leaking, Lee has this:

Neither Earnest nor Psaki would discuss the details of the leaks, but senior U.S. officials have expressed consternation with reports in the Israeli media as well as by The Associated Press about the number of centrifuges Iran might be able to keep under a potential agreement. Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium and diplomats familiar with the talks have said Iran may be allowed to keep more of them in exchange for other concessions under current proposals that are on the table.

Oh my. There is only one person we could be talking about when it gets to leaks from Israel on anything to do with the Iranian nuclear program. That would be none other than George Jahn, noted transcriber of Israeli leaks since they whole debate began. And just two days ago, Jahn regaled us with a piece titled “Good or bad Iran nuke deal? Israel vs the US administration“. And just look what detailed information about centrifuge numbers Jahn managed to obtain:

With only a few weeks left until the March deadline, Iran — which insists it does not want nuclear arms — seems to be ahead in pushing the other side to compromise.

The main dispute is over the size and potency of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which can make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of a weapon. The U.S., along with Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, came to the table demanding that Tehran dismantle 80 to 90 percent of the nearly 10,000 centrifuges now turning out enriched uranium along with all of the 8,000 or so other machines set up but not working.

But faced with Iranian resistance, diplomats now say the U.S. is prepared to accept 4,500 operating centrifuges — perhaps more — if Tehran agrees to constraints on their efficiency.

While trying to paint his article as balanced, besides including his information leaked by Israel, Jahn also tips his hand in his choice of “experts”. Two of the three he quotes are seriously lacking in objectivity. Jahn identifies Olli Heinonen only through his previous work at the IAEA but neglects to mention that Heinonen is also a major player in United Against Nuclear Iran, which has become embroiled in its own scandal about leaked information on Iran. Jahn also relies on David Albright, who has turned his Institute for Science and International Security (Hmm, Jahn left “International” out of the name; perhaps to stay away from “ISIS”?) into a pawn in the propaganda battle against Iran.

Albright is staging a “briefing” Monday to put his spin on expected news from IAEA. And of course Jahn is telling us before it has been released that the IAEA report will not be good for Iran.

With Netanyahu, Israel’s government (and its “diplomats”), AP’s Jahn, David Albright and much of Congress all aligned against a deal with Iran, the Obama Administration and the other P5+1 negotiators face a tough road in this final month of negotiations. I hope that sanity and peace somehow prevail, but it is very easy to see multiple paths to failure. Which means war.

Postcript — Let us welcome the new government of Freedonia: Okay, if you’ve made it this far through the post, you deserve a little fun. Matt Lee had a ton of fun with Jen Psaki when he was questioning her about the travel plans for Kerry and Biden. From the transcript:

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?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure —

QUESTION: 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. I can’t remember the specifics, but it’s a set date. And again, we, as you know, always have a fluid schedule and as we have more information we’ll let you know. I expect we’ll be certainly represented there.

Lee at first accepts this explanation, but then suddenly remembers something:

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.

And Lee just couldn’t resist providing a helpful suggestion:

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.

Update: Now we have video of this part of the briefing:

18 replies
  1. der says:

    Of leaks, peace and other sundry of brain-dead idiot thinking (and maybe not as off point as it may seem):

    * “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said Wednesday during a private group dinner in Manhattan, Politico reports. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

    Rome burns.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    I like the way that piece is headlined: “Israel vs the US administration“ As if it’s a “given” that the Israeli administration’s position is an accurate representation of the wishes of its citizenry, while the US administration’s position is not an accurate representation of the wishes of the US citizenry.

  3. wallace says:

    quote”Those officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly,…”unquote

    With all due respect Jim, while this “speaking on condition of anonymity” has now become a journalistic “standard”, I simply refuse to accept it anymore. Here is why. First off.. IF, these so called “officials”, speak outside of their given authority, then they can’t be trusted, and as such, how does one trust what they say is true? And THAT is the point. You can’t. Because you can’t fact check their answers by going to the actual person, their superiors or other sources of authority for verification. At this point in time, the acceptance of “anonymous” sources has become so rampant, it has destroyed the very foundations of what journalism used to be based on…and that is exactly why I find it to be so abhorrent. In that light..I’m calling these “anonymous officials” …LIARS. Now…back them up if you can. See?

    • Jim White says:

      Generally, I’m right there with you. And, of course, in this case it’s particularly ironic given that these anonymous leaks are being used to counter the anonymous leaks coming from Israel.
      But that is why it was important to get the bit about what the leaks are said to be and how we could then go directly to the George Jahn piece just a day earlier than when Lee got his info. In this case, the leaks do stand up to cross-checking.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Jahn — “enrichment program, which can make . . . the fissile core of a weapon”
    Anti-Iran writers like Jahn often treat nuclear “breakout” as the last step before a nuclear weapon. It isn’t.
    The enrichment process uses a large number of rotating cylinders interconnected to form cascades. The UF6 gas is placed in the cylinder, which is then rotated at a high speed. The rotation creates a strong centrifugal force that draws more of the heavier gas molecules…toward the wall of the cylinder, while the lighter gas molecules (containing the U-235) tend to collect closer to the center. The stream that is slightly enriched in U-235 is withdrawn and fed into the next higher stage, while the slightly depleted stream is recycled back into the next lower stage.
    A nuclear weapon requires 90%+ highly enriched uranium (HEU). The time required to produce a sufficient quantity of highly-enriched uranium to fuel a weapon is called achieving nuclear “breakout” capability.
    But breakout’s not the end. A nuclear weapon cannot be made of gas. The gas must be converted to metal, a difficult and very dangerous process because of the high potential for a critical accident (like a nuclear reactor without shielding) that would kill anyone in the room or nearby. Then comes testing, etc — a long process beyond “breakout.” And what about the on-site IAEA inspectors?

  5. rg says:

    Ever notice how, in these “pressers”, the first name of the reporter is used as part of a putdown, as if a teacher were responding to an impudent pupil?

  6. bloopie2 says:

    About Israel. They are our ally, right? But, an ally in … in doing what? Our allies in World War II helped us militarily defeat Germany and Japan. In the Cold War, our allies helped us do something to bring down the Iron Curtain. What are our allies helping us to do, now? What War is Israel helping us to fight, now? Or, are these “peace allies”? I’m confused.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Israel is a valuable US ally for many reasons including:
      –operational intelligence, assistance & deeds
      –good cop, bad cop with Iran
      –buying Congress to support US foreign policy
      –(supposed) basis for US hegemony in ME
      –arms sales, especially aircraft & missiles

      • bloopie2 says:

        All your reasons for calling Israel an “ally” are true, it would seem. And not a one of them “for the good of the world”, or even “for good”. Just for the US’ own self-interest. What a perversion of the term “ally”. “Partner in domination” would be more apt.

  7. bevin says:

    “… it is very easy to see multiple paths to failure. Which means war.”
    Why do you see war as inevitable, if there is no agreement?
    It seems to me that if there is no agreement Iran will be forced into the Shanghai Cooperation organisation and under its members’ nuclear umbrella. this would coincide with the discrediting of the pro-American influences in Iranian politics and a weakening of the US strategic position.
    War is always a possibility in a world where the most powerful military is controlled by idiots and shallow demagogues, highly influenced by actual death cult fascists such as Netanyahu, but the accession of Iran to an Eurasian alliance ought to introduce a little realism into the DC scene.
    An Iranian surrender to the 5+1 would almost certainly lead to a new set of demands and more sabre rattling with even less justification.

  8. Jim White says:

    The most likely pathway if no agreement is reached is a new set of much more stringent sanctions. They likely would be passed in Congress even over an Obama veto.
    And Iran has clearly stated that new sanctions would only lead to a huge increase in enrichment.
    At that point, Netanyahu would be smirking “I told you so” as he sends out jets on bombing missions.

  9. Bill Michtom says:

    If the Obama administration were truly concerned about Israel’s behavior, wouldn’t it threaten sanctions, as it so quickly does with all other countries?

    As it doesn’t, why should anyone think that it has any real problem with Netanyahu’s behavior? I’m confused.

  10. bloopie2 says:

    On the Intercept’s “encryption key theft” story, there’s no way I can tell if my phone’s key has been stolen, is there? And If I go out and get a new SIM card, there’s no way I can tell if it has been compromised, right? Jesus.

  11. Don Bacon says:

    Foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia seem to be picking up — on news that the Iran negotiations are dead? Iran will remain as a scary enemy? (the big corporations want it, and what they want….)
    USNI, Feb 19
    Industry: Potential $20 Billion U.S. Naval Sale to Saudi Arabia Picking Up Steam
    The $20 billion dollar recapitalization of Saudi Arabia’s eastern fleet is beginning to pick up steam again after several years of being a dormant U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, several U.S. shipbuilding industry officials have told USNI News.

  12. Don Bacon says:

    Regarding the new White House director of communications:
    Psaki has inspired a new nightly program on Russia’s NTV. “Psaki at Night,” which premiered about a month ago, is kind of like the Russian version of “The Daily Show.” Except, since NTV is a pro-Kremlin network, instead of Russian politicians, host Mikhail Gendelev lambasts the envoys — Psaki in particular — of other Western countries.
    Pro-Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov declared “Psaking” to be the buzzword sweeping the nation and defined it as a phrase used “when someone makes a dogmatic statement about something they don’t understand, mixes up facts, and then doesn’t apologize.”

    • wallace says:

      quote”Pro-Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov declared “Psaking” to be the buzzword sweeping the nation and defined it as a phrase used “when someone makes a dogmatic statement about something they don’t understand, mixes up facts, and then doesn’t apologize.”unquote

      Psaking. Bwhahahahahahahahaha! I’ma gonna use it.

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