NEW: Israeli intelligence minister met with French delegation, his spokesman says
WSJ: Israel used information it obtained to try to undercut support for a deal
"These allegations are utterly false," an Israeli official says of the spying claim
Israel did not spy on closed-door talks over Iran’s nuclear program involving the United States and other world powers, an Israeli official said Tuesday, denying a Wall Street Journal report.
The newspaper reported late Monday on its website that Israel had obtained confidential information about the negotiations to help it argue against a potential deal.
“These allegations are utterly false,” the senior official in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office told CNN. “The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies.”
The Israeli government’s use of the information it allegedly gleaned – sharing it with U.S. lawmakers and others to undercut support for a deal – was what really angered the White House, the Journal reported Monday, citing current and former U.S. officials.
“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter said, according to the newspaper.
The Israeli espionage efforts included eavesdropping and also acquiring information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the report says.
The senior Israeli official told CNN that “the false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”
Israeli officials met with French delegation
That’s not to say Israeli officials haven’t been asking around about the Iran nuclear talks, as participating parties race to get a framework agreement ahead of a March 31 deadline.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz and Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu’s national security adviser, led an Israeli delegation that met early this week with a negotiating team from France, Israeli Intelligence Ministry spokesman Eyal Basson said.
The same Israeli officials left France on Tuesday morning for the United Kingdom to meet with Britain’s delegation on the Iran nuclear talks, according to Basson.
Both France and Britain are among the Western powers in the P5+1, a group that also includes the United States, Russia, China and Germany, whose representatives have been across the table from Iran.
While in Paris, the Israeli delegation did not meet with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal.
The Israeli officials’ apparent aim in France was not to “influence Paris’ position in the negotiations, but to further develop the debate on the Iran nuclear talks,” according to Nadal.
Netanyahu speech irked Obama
Netanyahu himself has been clear on where he stands on this debate: He told the U.S. Congress earlier this month that a proposed agreement, as he depicted it, was “a bad deal.” The Israeli leader predicted that not only would such a deal not stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, it would “all but guarantee that Iran gets (nuclear) weapons, lots of them.”
“This deal won’t be a farewell to arms; it would be a farewell to arms control,” Netanyahu said. “And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires.”
Iranian officials have said they want a nuclear program for peaceful energy purposes. And they also want an end to the crippling sanctions which the United States and others have instituted to pressure Tehran.
U.S. officials have long insisted their goal is to make sure that Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons. But U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration also has been open to talks – and felt undermined by some moves by Netanyahu, who appears poised to remain Israel’s prime minister after an election last week.
In particular, Netanyahu’s speech to Congress stoked long simmering tensions with Obama, not least because it was organized by House Speaker John Boehner without the White House’s prior knowledge. Some questioned where Netanyahu got his information on a proposed nuclear deal, particularly at a point when negotiations were in flux with no agreement in place.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, the sharing of sensitive information about the talks took place before Netanyahu’s address.
It describes efforts by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to lobby U.S. lawmakers before an interim agreement with Iran in November 2013 and briefings by Dermer and other Israeli officials in the early months of this year.
But a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, Aaron Sagui, told the Journal that “Ambassador Dermer never shared confidential intelligence information with members of Congress.”
CNN’s Oren Liebermann reported from Jerusalem, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Greg Botelho and Laura Akhoun contributed to this report.