White House holds its fire on Iranian leader who called Israel a 'rabid dog'

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday declined to condemn Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called Israel a "rabid dog" in a speech on Wednesday.

Earnest said initially that he had not "seen those comments directly, only news reports about them."

But he said that the U.S. was seeking a deal to halt Iran's nuclear program in Geneva this week because of the danger of "a nation that regularly deploys fiery rhetoric like that" having a nuclear weapon.

Pressed if he was deliberately avoiding condemning the comments so as not to disrupt the negotiations, Earnest said that the administration's "position in terms of our support for Israel's security" was "crystal clear."

Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorTop Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling to retire after end of current term A tyranny of the minority is raising your health care costs MORE (R-Va.), responded incredulously on Twitter.

"White House won't comment on Supreme [Leader's] 'rabid dog' comments, acts like they haven't even seen them. Really remarkable. France condemned," Cooper tweeted.

Earnest's refusal to condemn the remark follows similarly muted comments from a senior U.S. official following the talks in Geneva on Wednesday. 

“Of course I don’t ever like it when people use rhetoric that in any way talks about the U.S. in ways that I find very uncomfortable and not warranted whatsoever,” the official told reporters in Geneva, according to BuzzFeed.

The official's remarks stood in contrast to a statement from France, which condemned the remarks and said they complicated nuclear talks.

But earlier Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha PowerSamantha PowerUS to vote against UN resolution condemning Cuba embargo Former AG Lynch to meet with House, Senate Russia investigators The Memo: Tillerson flap puts spotlight on Trump's foreign policy moves MORE said Thursday that she condemned the remarks.

"Let me, obviously, condemn the comments of the Ayatollah, which are abhorrent," Power told CNN's "New Day."