Netanyahu’s speech to Congress over impending Iran deal draws rebuke from Obama

WASHINGTON -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United States Tuesday that it was negotiating a bad deal with Iran that could spark a "nuclear nightmare," drawing a rebuke from President Barack Obama and exposing a deepening U....

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Israeli Prime Minister talks about the impending Iran deal, saying Israel will face a "countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare." Reuters

WASHINGTON - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United States Tuesday that it was negotiating a bad deal with Iran that could spark a “nuclear nightmare,” drawing a rebuke from President Barack Obama and exposing a deepening U.S.-Israeli rift.
Delivering dueling messages within hours of each other, Netanyahu made his case against Obama’s Iran diplomacy in a speech to Congress that aligned himself with the president’s Republican foes. Obama responded in the Oval Office, declaring in a frustrated tone that Netanyahu offered “nothing new.”
In its response, the Iranian government denounced Netanyahu’s 39-minute speech as “boring and repetitive,” the state news agency IRNA said.
In an appearance boycotted by dozens of Obama’s fellow Democrats, Netanyahu said Iran’s leadership was “as radical as ever” and could not be trusted. He added that the deal being worked out by the United States and other world powers would not block Iran’s way to a bomb “but paves its way to a bomb.”
“It will all but guarantee that Iran will get those nuclear weapons, lots of them,” the Israeli leader said. “We’ll face a much more dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.”
His speech, a point-by-point critique of Obama’s strategy, drew 26 standing ovations in the Republican-controlled chamber.
Netanyahu both inveighed against the emerging deal and suggested broadening the scope of negotiations to require a change to Iran’s anti-Israel posture - an idea swiftly rejected by the Obama administration as de facto “regime change” in Tehran.

But Netanyahu also avoided any call for new sanctions now or for a total rollback of Iranian nuclear technologies - a signal that Israel might be able to resign itself to less.
“On the core issue, which is how do we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon ... the prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives,” said Obama.
Netanyahu’s speech culminated a diplomatic storm triggered by his acceptance in January of a Republican invitation that bypassed the White House. Many Democrats considered it an affront to the president.
Obama refused to meet Netanyahu, saying that doing so just ahead of Israel’s March 17 general election would be seen as interference. The president, who has a history of testy encounters with Netanyahu, said he did not watch the televised speech but read the transcript.
Underscoring the partisan divide, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the speech “an insult to the intelligence of the United States” and said she was so “saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran” that she was near tears.
As many as 60 of the 232 Democratic members of Congress sat out the address. Their absence was especially striking given Congress typically unites around the issue of Israeli security.
The boycotting by so many lawmakers could raise political heat on Netanyahu at home. Many Israelis are wary of estrangement from a U.S. ally that provides their country with wide-ranging military and diplomatic support.
Netanyahu entered the chamber to a cacophony of cheers, shaking hands with lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner.
At the start of the speech, he sought to defuse the intense politicization of his appearance, saying he was grateful to Obama for his public and private support of Israel, including contributions to Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.
Netanyahu then launched into a scathing attack on the Iran diplomatic efforts, which face an end-of-March deadline for a framework accord. But Netanyahu did not specifically call for new U.S. sanctions, something Obama has said would undermine ongoing talks and would prompt a veto if passed by Congress.
“If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, they should at the very least be prepared to insist that Iran changes its behavior before the deal expires,” Netanyahu said. He added that while Israel and similarly minded Arab states might not like such a deal, they could live with it “literally,” he said.

Netanyahu "didn’t offer any viable alternatives," Obama said Tuesday. Reuters

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