In what is probably a first for the United States, the Obama administration said on Wednesday that it is withholding from Israel some sensitive details of its nuclear negotiations with Iran because it is worried that Israeli government officials have leaked information to try to scuttle the talks, and might continue to do so.
In extraordinary admissions that reflect increasingly strained ties between the US and Israel, the White House and State Department said they were not sharing everything from the negotiations with the Israelis, and complained that Israeli officials had misrepresented what they had been told in the past.
Meanwhile, senior US officials privately blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself for 'changing the dynamic' of a previously robust information-sharing system by politicizing it.
Netanyahu has angered the White House by his open opposition to a deal he believes threatens Israel's existence, and by accepting a Republican invitation to address Congress about Iran in early March without consulting the White House, a breach of diplomatic protocol.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that sharing all details of the negotiations with governments that are not at the table would complicate efforts to get a deal that would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in exchange for sanctions relief.
The talks are being held among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - Germany and Iran.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki went further, confirming that one of the steps the administration takes to ensure that 'classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors' is to withhold them from Israel. She also directly blamed Israel for mischaractersing the talks.
''I think it's safe to say that not everything you're hearing from the Israeli government is an accurate reflection of the details of the talks,'' she said. ''There's a selective sharing of information.''
Though Earnest and Psaki said the limitations on information sharing were longstanding, US officials more directly involved in the talks said the decision to withhold the most sensitive details of the negotiations dated back only several weeks, according to an AP report.
The tensions between the United States and Israel over negotiating with Tehran have a long and twisted history, and they plunged to a new low when Netanyahu engineered an invitation to address a joint meeting of Congress, where he warned against a ''bad deal.''
Now, with Netanyahu manoeuvring to survive a March 17 election and Obama pressing for a breakthrough agreement that could end three decades of enmity with Iran and reduce the chances of a military confrontation, it seems that Washington and Tel-Aviv ''are engaging in the diplomatic equivalent of posting notes to each other on the refrigerator door'', The New York Times commented.