The expression “chickenshit” is used to mean a worthless coward.

“I have never heard that word around me in the White House. I don’t know who these anonymous people are who keep getting quoted, but they make life much more difficult,” Kerry added.

The controversy came just ahead of a White House meeting on Thursday between Susan Rice, national security adviser to President Barack Obama, and Yossi Cohen, national security adviser to Netanyahu.

Kerry dropped by the meeting, the White House said. The consultations focused on ongoing nuclear talks with Iran and the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.