No Netanyahu veto on Iran deal, top senator says

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Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, answers questions at a press conference following the weekly policy luncheon of the Republican caucus at the U.S. Capitol, March 3, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., on Tuesday flatly denied that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s influence in Congress means that he could kill a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Corker, speaking in an interview with Yahoo News, also played down a Wall Street Journal report from late Monday that Israel had spied on the talks with Tehran, saying he regularly learns more about the negotiations from other countries’ foreign ministers than from the Obama administration.

Asked whether the Israeli leader enjoyed a de facto veto over a potential deal, Corker emphatically replied, “No!”

He continued, “I don’t get that sense at all. I just don’t think he’s influenced” Senate responses to the ongoing negotiations.

“If you look at what happened, he was actually pressing for Kirk-Menendez to be voted on prior to the deal happening. It didn’t happen, did it?” Corker said.

He was referring to legislation crafted by Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez that would impose new sanctions on Iran in the event that ongoing talks fail to yield a comprehensive deal by June 30.

Negotiators from Iran and the so-called P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — hope to seal a political framework agreement by the end of March, to be followed by a more technical accord before July.

Israel opposes the emerging deal, which would ease sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy in return for a series of restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Netanyahu recently denounced the prospective agreement in a speech to a joint meeting of Congress, and he and other Israeli officials have been privately lobbying against it.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Israeli intelligence obtained sensitive information about the negotiations and used it to try to win over lawmakers.

Corker shrugged off the revelations, saying that he learned more from other countries’ diplomats than from what he characterized as an overly secretive Obama White House.

The senator, who has met with Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, told Yahoo News, “I have never found them actually to be sharing anything different than was in public sources.

“As I met with Netanyahu the last time, he said, ‘You know, all this is Google-able — Yahoo-able!’” he said. “For what it’s worth, I get more information about what’s happening from foreign ministers than I do from anyone. Not from Israel; foreign ministers that are part of the negotiating teams.”

Corker said he learned from German diplomats recently that the Obama administration planned to ask the U.N. Security Council to ease international sanctions if a deal is reached.

Corker said that the White House was “upset that foreign governments may be giving information to senators because they [the administration] are not.”

White House officials have insisted for months that they regularly keep lawmakers up-to-date on important national security and foreign policy developments. But Corker said that even briefings in a secure, classified room in the Senate are stingy with details.

“I never learn anything that I haven’t read about on Yahoo or the New York Times or some other place,” he said.

“The fact is, we do get most of our information, the real information, or a lot of it, from other sources,” Corker said.

The full Yahoo News interview with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman will run Wednesday.

The interview was conducted by Olivier Knox and Meredith Shiner. This piece was written by Knox.

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