As the United States and a group of five other world powers held nuclear negotiations with Iran, U.S. ally Israel used espionage to glean details of the secret talks and work behind the scenes to scuttle any potential agreement, according to a report posted late Monday by The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal said senior White House officials learned last year that Israel was using eavesdropping, information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and European diplomatic contacts to learn details of the talks.
The report said Israel denied directly spying on the United States, but instead got information by monitoring Iranian leaders who received updates on the meetings.
Diplomats and experts from Iran and the group that includes the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany are searching for a deal that ensures Iran is not seeking to build nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from harsh economic sanctions.
Kept discussions private
The sides agreed to keep the details of their discussions private to try to prevent outside influences from affecting the outcome.
Despite the pledge of secrecy, Israeli officials have repeatedly made statements asserting that a potential deal would not go far enough to make sure Iran would be left unable to build nuclear weapons.
Senior U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, have warned against outside involvement, expressing the need for the negotiation process to be given a chance to play out without prejudgments of its outcome.
The relationship between the Obama administration and Israel became further strained earlier this month when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went before the U.S. Congress and laid out the case for not making a nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu spoke at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, sidestepping the usual protocol of going through the White House.
"My friends, for over a year, we have been told that no deal is better than a bad deal," Netanyahu said in his address. "Well, this is a bad deal. We are better off without it."
caroon by Dian, Iranian daily Shargh
Members of the Republican-led Congress have since been pressing Obama to seek their approval of any agreement that Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council reach with Iran.
Days after the Israeli prime minister's speech, a group of 47 Republican Senators sent an open letter to Iran warning that any deal might last only until Obama's term in office ends in 2017.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 367 members of the House of Representatives said in a letter to Obama, released Monday, that a final deal has to leave Iran with "no pathway to a bomb" and include "verifiable constraints on Iran's nuclear program that must last for decades."
Also Monday, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said he is worried about the prospect of an agreement going before the Security Council and setting off the unraveling of sanctions without the chance for Congress to approve first.
"That would be met with a violent response in the Congress," Graham said in an address at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "I don't think that's good for the country, to take a deal that could affect world order to an international body before you take it to your own people."
Graham said seeking Congressional approval would mean letting negotiators reach the best deal they can and justifying it to lawmakers, and that a vote against the provisions would not be a message to stop talking, but instead a statement that the terms are "not good enough."
Graham is sponsoring a bill along with Republican Senator Bob Corker and Democratic Senators Robert Menendez and Tim Kaine that would require Obama to send a nuclear deal to Congress for 60 days of review and approval before any U.S. sanctions are lifted. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is due to consider the measure on April 14.
Iran and the so-called P5+1 group have given themselves until the end of March to agree on the outline of an agreement, with a final deal due by the end of June. They have agreed several times to extend previous deadlines.
Israel has been a keen observer of the years-long process, expressing the position that a nuclear Iran would post an existential threat to the country.
The negotiations continue this week in Switzerland, with Secretary Kerry scheduled to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Thursday.
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