The White House has denied a report published in an Israeli paper that US President Barack Obama invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks in Washington DC after the June 30 deadline for six world powers to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran.
The mass-circulation Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Tuesday morning that the US President had invited the Israeli PM to meet with him on either July 15 or 16.
Yedioth Aranoth’s sister publication ynetnews.com interpreted the alleged invitation as an indication that Obama is interested in repairing ties following a fallout after Netanyahu addressed a joint session of congreess on March 3 without being invited by the president. Netanyahu’s visit would take place after the Iran nuclear negotiations are concluded successfully, assuming there are no delays, but before Congress approves the agreement.
Obama and Netanyahu have differences of opinion regarding the Iran nuclear agreement as well as the proposed two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 on May 31, Obama questioned Netanyahu’s sincerity regarding finding a solution to the decades old conflict, saying “already, the international community does not believe that Israel is serious about a two state-solution.”
Officials in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office as well as those in the White House denied Yedioth Ahronoth’s claim.
A senior US official told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that there was no invitation at the time, but that “absolutely we’d expect that there will certainly be occasion for the two of them to meet in Washington at some point going forward.”
An Israeli official said no invitation has yet been received regarding a visit by Netanyahu to the US.
Iran nuclear talks possibly hacked
Israel was recently linked to a computer virus espionage incident reported by the Russian computer security company Kaspersky Lab on June 10. In the incident a virus was used to hack into locations that had hosted negotiations between Iran and the six world powers consisting of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
Swiss authorities conducted a house search on May 12 in Geneva and seized computer material while Austria started investigating the case following Kaspersky Lab’s announcement of the hack.
Jerusalem has denied any connection with the computer virus. Both Kaspersky and US security company Symantec noted the virus shares some similarities in programming with Duqu, an espionage software that experts believe to have been developed by Israelis.
In a speech delivered to the US Congress on March 3 Netanyahu - an ardent critic of the nuclear talks with Iran - called the negotiations “a bad deal” and criticised the US for considering lifting sanctions from Iran.
Netanyahu added that Iran could produce a bomb within a year should it decide to break the deal.
Netanyahu: No need to hack, just Google it
Netanyahu said the nuclear deal with Iran would not deter it from building a nuclear bomb in the future. “While the final deal has not yet been signed, certain elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public record,” he said. “ You don’t need intelligence agencies and secret information to know this. You can Google it.”
“This deal has two major concessions,” he said. “One, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
Netanyahu called on the US Congress to help “stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.” Calling Iran and ISIS two powers “competing for the crown of militant Islam” he warned US lawmakers that “the greatest dangers facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons.”
He said in order to lift sanctions, the six world powers should additionally demand Iran “stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East … stop supporting terrorism around the world, and stop threatening to annihilate … Israel.”
In a private meeting with Jewish leaders at the White House in mid-April, Obama said he would speak with Netanyahu over the telephone because “a face-to-face meeting at the White House would probably end with Mr. Netanyahu publicly venting his complaints about the president’s policies,” and an Oval Office invitation would wait until after the June 30 deadline for ironing out the nuclear deal details with Iran, the New York Times reported on April 23.
The approaching June 30 deadline
In exchange for ending sanctions which have hurt its economy, Iran agreed to limit sensitive nuclear work for at least 10 years, reduce the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges it operates and to allow more inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in a preliminary deal reached on Apr. 2.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, when announcing the tentative deal, said that representatives had agreed on “the most challenging and overarching issues,” but that some decisions still remain to be made regarding technical and policy issues.
French ambassador Gerard Araud blamed Iran for causing delays by requesting ministers rather than lower level officials from the six powers to make decisions on issues, leading to frustration on all sides. He stated that the initial deadline now seemed implausible.
"It's very likely that we won't have an agreement before the end of June or even [right] after," Araud said on May 26.
"Even if we get the best deal ... afterwards, you will have to translate it into the technical annexes, so it may be ... we could have a sort of fuzzy end to the negotiation."
Araud’s German counterpart Peter Wittig echoed the French official’s skepticism about the deadline, stating that "Iran needs some time to start the implementation of this agreement, so in the best case sanctions relief would not happen before the end of this year."