WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the American public on Tuesday that a deal, now being negotiated with Iran, would start the countdown to a “nuclear nightmare”.
Mr Netanyahu used his controversial speech to a joint session of the US Congress to try and convince the Americans that the Obama administration was negotiating a “bad deal” with Iran.
“For more than a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it,” he said.
Two days ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry reassured Israel that the United States and five other world powers — Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany — would not sign a bad deal.
The Obama administration was upset because the Republican-dominated Congress did not consult the White House before inviting Mr Netanyahu.
The White House expressed its anger by indicating that President Barack Obama and other administration officials would not meet Mr Netanyahu during this visit while Secretary Kerry called the decision to invite the Israeli leader without consulting the administration as “odd and unique”.
The White House also urged the Israeli prime minister not to divulge secret details of its negotiations with Iran in his speech to Congress and Vice President Joe Biden decided not to sit behind the guest speaker during the joint session, as the custom demanded.
Senior administration officials and more than 50 Democrats boycotted the speech. But the majority attended and also made it obvious that they did not share the administration’s indignation with Mr Netanyahu.
The 40-minute speech earned Mr Netanyahu frequent ovations from both Republicans and Democrats as he urged both to oppose the proposed deal.
As The New York Times pointed out, Mr Netanyahu’s speech included “an implicit challenge to President Obama”, who had said the deal would bring peace and stability to the entire Middle East, including Israel.
Mr Netanyahu disagreed and alleged that Iran’s “tentacles of terror” were already clutching Israel and that failing to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons “could well threaten the survival of my country”.
The deal Mr Obama sought would not prevent a nuclear-armed Iran but “would all but guarantee that Iran got nuclear weapons — lots of them”, he claimed.
The NYT also noted that Mr Netanyahu’s address was “by far the most anticipated speech to Congress by a foreign leader in many years”, and generated both “resentment and reinforcement” in US political circles.
The Israeli leader urged the international community to use its influence to persuade Iran to “stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state”.
Mr Netanyahu also rejected the Obama administration’s argument that threatening Iran would kill the negotiation process. “If Iran threatens to walk away from the table… call their bluff. They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do,” he said.
After the speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described the move as an “insult” to US intelligence. She appeared agitated during the address.
As Mr Netanyahu gave his speech, she repeatedly spoke and used forceful gestures to other lawmakers.
The Obama administration, which is trying to sign a final deal with Iran by March 31, however, was encouraged by an opinion poll released on Tuesday.
The poll by the University of Maryland showed that more than 60 per cent of Americans supported a deal with Iran that would curb its enrichment while also including strict inspection measures.
For his part, President Obama said that in his speech the Israeli prime minister did not offer any “viable alternatives” to a nuclear deal with Iran.
“On the core issue, which is how do we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would make it far more dangerous and would give it scope for even greater action in the region, the prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives,” he said.
Mr Obama said he did not watch the speech because he was on a conference video call with European leaders. But he said: “I did have a chance to take a look at the transcript, and as far as I can tell there was nothing new (in the speech).”
He added: “The prime minister appropriately pointed out that the bond between Israel and the United States of America is unbreakable, and on that point I thoroughly agree.”
Published in Dawn March 4th , 2015