US denies reports of secret dealings with Tehran


TOLEDO, Ohio – The White House yesterday denied an Israeli newspaper report that accused Washington of secretly negotiating with Tehran to keep the United States out of a future Israel-Iran war.

The Jewish state also played down the front-page report in its biggest-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, which followed unusually public disagreement between the allies about how to tackle Iran’s controversial nuclear programme. “It’s incorrect, completely incorrect,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said while accompanying President Barack Obama on a campaign trip in Ohio. “The report is false and we don’t talk about hypotheticals.”

Without naming its sources, Yedioth said Washington had approached Tehran through two unidentified European countries to convey the message that the US would not be dragged into fighting if Israel carried out threats to attack Iran.

Yedioth said the US told Iran it should in return refrain from retaliating against US interests, including its military in the Gulf.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli official, who asked not to be identified, described the report as illogical.

“It doesn’t make sense,” the official said. “There would be no need to make such a promise to the Iranians because they realise the last thing they need is to attack US targets and draw massive US bombing raids.”

In appearances on Sunday and yesterday, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged world powers to set a “clear red line” for Tehran’s atomic programme that would convince Iran they were determined to prevent it from obtaining nuclear arms. Such remarks have been portrayed in Israel as criticism of Mr Obama.

The president, who seeks re-election in November, is fighting accusations from his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, that he is lax in his support for Israel.

The Obama administration says it is strongly committed to Israel’s security and to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and has vowed far-ranging reprisals if attacked.

The US and Israel accuse Iran of secretly seeking the means to make nuclear arms and say they reserve the right to take military action to prevent Iran from getting them.However, the Obama administration has repeatedly made clear in public that it thinks diplomacy and tough new sanctions have not yet run their course, even as Israeli officials say the window for effective military action is rapidly closing.

Israeli deputy prime minister Dan Meridor said he still believed Mr Obama’s assurances that Washington was prepared to use force if needed to prevent Iran from developing a bomb.

“I don’t know what kind of messages Yedioth Ahronoth heard,” Mr Meridor said. “But I think the Iranians understand . . . that if they cross a line towards a bomb, they could encounter very strong resistance, including all the options that are on the table – as the American president has said.”

Mr Obama has had frosty relations with the right-wing Netanyahu, who is due to visit the US this month.

While the presidential election is seen as hinging mostly on the economy, support for Israel is an important issue for many US voters, including evangelical Christians as well as Jews who could prove critical in states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.

Mr Obama wants to shore up his advantage among Jewish voters. While he received 78 per cent of the Jewish vote in 2008, a Gallup poll in June showed him down to 64 per cent. – (Reuters)