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White House, amid heating tensions with Israel, to brief Jewish leaders on Iran

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Amid an escalation of signals that the Obama and Netanyahu governments are parting ways on Iran strategy, the White House called in American Jewish leaders for a briefing on short notice.

A small coterie of Jewish organizational leaders will meet Tuesday afternoon with top staff at the National Security Council to discuss Iran, according to the White House and officials of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The emphasis appears to be on groups that deal closely with Israel and its security concerns. A number of groups normally high on the list for White House briefings were not invited, including representatives of the Reform and Orthodox movements.

The invitation follows a tense, albeit coded, public exchange between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the last two days over Iran, as well as persistent backing by pro-Israel groups for a congressional bid to enhance Iran sanctions despite White House pleas to put new sanctions on hold.

On Sunday, addressing his Cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derided in unusually sharp terms the attempts to talk Iran down from 20 percent to 3.5 percent uranium enrichment.

“The Iranians are intentionally focusing the discussion on this issue. It is without importance,” said Netanyahu, who has insisted that Iran must dismantle all enrichment capabilities as part of a deal to end sanctions aimed at ending its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Netanyahu did not specify Kerry as advancing the proposal, but made it clear his remarks were made in the context of talks he had with Kerry last week in Rome.

“This was the focus of the long and detailed talks I had with John Kerry,” he said.

Kerry appeared to return the jab in an address Monday evening to the Ploughshares Fund, a group that advocates nuclear disarmament.

“The president has charged me to be and has welcomed an opportunity to try to put to the test whether or not Iran really desires to pursue only a peaceful program, and will submit to the standards of the international community in the effort to prove that to the world,” Kerry said.

“Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting that to the test,” he said. “I suggest that the idea that the United States of America is a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise.”

In recent days a number of leading Jewish groups, including AIPAC, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federations of North America, have reiterated support for advancing through Congress new and enhanced Iran sanctions, although the Obama administration has made clear publicly that it would prefer Congress put off dealing with the legislation until after the next round of talks in mid-November.

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