Israel Is Steadfast in Criticism of Nuclear Deal – Michael R. Gordon/The New York Times
OCCUPIED WASHINGTON — In a stern response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent comments on the Iran nuclear accord, an Israeli official said Saturday that Israel would continue to criticize the agreement and could not be pressured to stop voicing its objections.
In remarks on Friday, Mr. Kerry warned that the international community might blame Israel if Congress blocked the accord and that as a result Israel might “wind up being more isolated.”
Mr. Kerry’s remarks, made during an appearance in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations, were taken by Israeli officials as a thinly veiled effort to muzzle their criticism.
“We reject the threats directed at Israel in recent days,” an Israeli official said in a statement to The New York Times.
“The U.S. Congress will make its decision based on American interests, which include consideration of U.S. allies,” added the official, who asked not to be named because of the diplomatic sensitivities. “The regrettable attempt to intimidate Israel will not prevent us from voicing our concerns about this deal, which poses direct threats to Israel’s security.”
It was the first response from an Israeli official to Mr. Kerry’s remarks, which occurred shortly before the Jewish Sabbath began in Israel.
American officials insisted on Saturday that Mr. Kerry had never intended to threaten Israel and were careful not to repeat his observation that Israel might be blamed if Congress stops the accord from being enacted.
“Secretary Kerry issued no threats,” said John Kirby, the State Department spokesman. “He simply stated a fact: Should the U.S. Congress fail to support the deal, it will fall apart, and so, too, will any international support for further sanctions on Iran and its nuclear program. Iran will thus be able to start rushing its nuclear program forward again.”
In his Friday comments, Mr. Kerry also argued that the nuclear agreement, which would limit Iran’s nuclear program for more than 10 years, was overwhelmingly in Israel’s interest.
“We’re gaining a safety and security, I believe, for Israel and the region that no alternative presents,” said Mr. Kerry, who added that he still considered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to be a friend.
Still, it is clear that the considerable strains between the Obama administration and Mr. Netanyahu’s government have grown since the State Department submitted the accord to Congress on July 19 for a 60-day review.
American officials have been frustrated by Israel’s relentless criticism of what the White House considers President Obama’s most significant foreign policy achievement. Israeli officials, however, have been worried that the Obama administration is reluctant to stand up to Iran and is ambivalent about projecting power in the Middle East.
“It is striking that despite years of stepped-up consultations, there is such rancor and mistrust between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government,” said Robert M. Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official.
“Even more noteworthy is that their differences over Iran are being aired so publicly, even with their manifold channels of private communications,” Mr. Danin said. “This failure to come to a common understanding, if not joint approach, is harmful to both American and Israeli interests.”
The Israeli statement comes just days after Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter visited Israel to try to reassure officials there that the United States would continue to be vigilant in confronting what he called “Iran’s malign influence.”
On Friday, Mr. Kerry said that he would meet with Arab officials in Qatar in August to discuss ways to counter Iranian activities “we disagree with.”
Mr. Kerry said his goal was “to unify the Gulf world, and we hope Israel,” to “push back against” Iran.