After reports emerged that U.S. officials accused Israel of spying on U.S.-Iran nuclear talks, the State Department said Tuesday it plans to continue briefing Israel on the negotiations.
The news comes less than a day after the Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed U.S. officials alleging that Israel was eavesdropping on the closed-door talks in order to mount a political offensive against any resulting deal.
Israel quickly denied the allegations, calling them “incorrect and inaccurate.” On a radio program, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted that Israel can glean sensitive information from Iranian sources. The Americans learned of the alleged spying only through their own espionage, the Journal reported.
Without confirming or denying the spying allegations, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki affirmed that the U.S. would not be breaking off its private briefings with Israel. “We still have ongoing conversations that are continuing with Israel,” Psaki said, according to reports by Agence France-Presse.
The White House’s central point of contention with Israel was not over the spying itself, which officials suggested both countries regularly engage in. U.S. officials criticized Israel instead for using the sensitive information to allegedly stir up opposition amongst American lawmakers wary of Iran talks.
The negotiations over Iran's nuclear program have driven a wedge between Washington and Israel, which doesn’t have a seat at the bargaining table. These tensions approached a breaking point when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington on March 2, against the White House’s wishes, to give a speech before Congress that blasted the Obama administration for its stance toward Iran.
Relations continued to sour as Netanyahu turned against Palestinian statehood and warned of Arab-Israeli voting in his bid for re-election, which he won last week. The nuclear talks, being held between six world powers and Iran in Switzerland, are supposed to conclude March 31.