AMMAN, Jordan — In high-stakes talks aimed at calming U.S. allies' fears about the Iran nuclear deal, Defense Secretary Ash Carter appeared to change no minds among Israeli leaders fiercely opposed to the deal.
They called it a bad deal. He called it a good deal. And they all just called it a day.
Carter on Tuesday did avoid a public tongue-lashing by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader has called the Iran deal a monumental mistake and asserted that it severely weakens Israel's security, strengthens Iran and contradicts President Barack Obama's stated goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Carter and Netanyahu met Tuesday in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. Neither commented on Iran in a brief appearance before news cameras and reporters. They shook hands and Netanyahu quickly steered Carter upstairs, to Carter's apparent surprise that Netanyahu was bypassing a chance to publicly attack the deal.
Later, during remarks to U.S., French, Belgian, British, Jordanian and other international troops at an air base in Jordan, Carter mentioned that Netanyahu had been blunt behind closed doors.
"The prime minister made it quite clear that he disagreed with us with respect to the nuclear deal in Iran," Carter said. "But friends can disagree."
Carter has said his aim is to keep the U.S.-Israeli military relationship on track and to promise that the U.S. will offer more cooperation on joint defense projects like missile defense.
A Carter aide who attended the talks in Jerusalem later told reporters that Netanyahu bluntly expressed his opposition to the Iran deal but did not get angry or upset with Carter. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss specifics of a closed meeting.
Netanyahu made the same arguments against the deal that he has expressed publicly numerous times since the agreement was announced earlier this month, the aide said, including his view that Iran will use money freed up by the removal of international economic sanctions to accelerate its support for proxies like the Lebanese Hezbollah that threaten Israel.
Carter countered with the U.S. view that Iran is likely to be compelled to use much of its windfall to fix a badly damaged economy.
The U.S. official said neither Carter nor Netanyahu raised the issue of potential U.S. compensation to Israel in the form of increased defense assistance to counter Iran-related threats.
Carter flew to Israel on Sunday to begin a week-long tour of the Middle East focused on reassuring allies about Iran and assessing progress in the coalition air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. He was the first Cabinet-level U.S. official to meet with Netanyahu since the signing of the Iran deal.
Carter was flying to Jedda, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to consult with Saudi leaders, who are also unsettled by an Iran accord they see as likely to increase Iranian power and influence in the Persian Gulf and beyond.