'I kind of feel left out': Top US legislators deny Israelis briefed them on Iran talks
"I read that story this morning, and frankly, I was a bit shocked," Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters. "There was no information revealed to me whatsoever."
Asked to clarify his reaction to the story, Boehner replied: "I'm shocked by the fact that there were reports in this press article that information was being passed on by the Israelis to members of Congress. I'm not aware of that at all.”
"I'm baffled by it," he added.
Israel is accused of feeding secret information on the Iran P5+1 nuclear talks to senior US lawmakers in an effort to scuttle the negotiations, a Wall Street Journal report published Monday said. The accusation has been met with sharp denial in Tel Aviv, as well as from those senior lawmakers.
— Richard Lieberman (@LiebermanLA06) March 24, 2015
“One of my reactions was, why haven’t they been coming up here sharing information with me? I mean Israel. I haven’t had any of them coming up and talking with me about where the deal is, so I was kind of wondering who it was they were meeting with,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters.
“I kind of feel left out, if you know what I’m saying,” he quipped.
“I got to be honest; I’ve never had them really share anything with me that I couldn’t read in one of your publications,” Corker said, adding that “most of it you can get on the internet.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that any information Israeli officials had shared with him was information he already knew.
“No one from Israel’s ever briefed me about the agreement,” he told reporters. “I hope we’re spying on the Iranians."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was non-plussed by the WSJ article.
“All nations try to get as much information as they can about what's going on that affects them ‒ including the United States of America, as we know,” Hoyer said, adding that he hadn’t received any information from the Israelis.
Others didn’t really think of the reported actions as spying, per se.
“I don’t look at Israel or any nation directly affected by the Iranian program wanting deeply to know what’s going on in the negotiations ‒ I just don’t look at that as spying,” Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said, as quoted by the Daily Beast. “Their deep existential interest in such a deal, that they would try to figure out anything that they could, that they would have an opinion on it...I don’t find any of that that controversial.”
“There’s no non-pejorative way to use the word ‘spying.’ That is a pejorative accusation. That’s not the phrase I would use to describe what I read...they care deeply about the negotiation, as they should, they’re getting information about it, and they have an opinion about it,” he added.
— Josh Zembik (@jzembik) March 24, 2015
Corker hinted to reporters that the White House was to blame for the WSJ report.
"I think y'all all understand what's happening here. I mean, you understand who's pushing this out," he said.
“If you think about it, if the White House was doing the normal advise and consent with the Senate, then it wouldn’t be necessary to get our information [elsewhere],” Corker added.
President Barack Obama denied those accusations during a news conference on Monday.
"We have not just briefed Congress about the progress, or lack thereof, that's being made, but we've also briefed the Israelis and our other partners in the region and around the world," Obama said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US shares information with Israel on Iran and other shared interests, but is concerned with leaks regarding the negotiations with Iran.
"I think we've spoken in the past to our concern in the past has been about leaks of certain sensitive information. And obviously, we've taken steps to ensure that the negotiations remain private," she said.