WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Washington on Monday that an emerging nuclear deal with Iran could threaten his country’s very survival, but insisted Israel-US relations remain solid.
“You are here to tell the world that reports of the demise of the US relationship is not only premature, but it is wrong,” the Israeli leader told delegates to a packed pro-Israel conference in Washington.
Netanyahu goes to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to address a joint meeting of Congress on the perils of President Barack Obama’s ongoing efforts to reach agreement with Iran to curtail its nuclear program.
“My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the office that he holds.
I have great respect for both,” he told 16,000 activists at lobby group AIPAC’s annual conference.
“The purpose of my address to Congress tomorrow is to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel.
“Israel and the United States agree that Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons. But we disagree on the best way to prevent them from developing those weapons,” he added.
Speaking before Netanyahu, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power sought to counter his opposition to the emerging deal with Tehran.
“The United States of America will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period,” she said.
And she insisted that Obama would stand by US allies “whether the negotiations collapse or produce a diplomatic solution that meets our bottom line.
Netanyahu aides say Israel has “excellent information” that talks between the Islamic republic and the so-called P5+1 group negotiating a deal meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb are heading toward an easing of international sanctions without the ironclad safeguards the Jewish state says are essential to deny Iran a nuclear bomb.
“We know a great deal about the emerging agreement,” an official told journalists on Netanyahu’s flight to Washington Sunday. “In our view, it is a bad agreement.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not indicate the source of the information but said Netanyahu would elaborate in his congressional address.
That apparently prompted US Secretary of State John Kerry to comment that he was “concerned by reports” that “selective details” of the deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program would be revealed in the coming days.
Netanyahu’s opponents at home and abroad accuse him of endangering the special relationship with the United States in order to further his policy agenda.
Similar criticism has been levelled at Obama’s Republican opponents in the US Congress.
“Our commitments to our partnership with Israel are bedrock commitments rooted in shared fundamental values cemented through decades of bipartisan reinforcement,” Power said.
“This partnership should never be politicized,” she added, vowing that the joint commitments “cannot and will not be tarnished or broken.”
Netanyahu is running for reelection in a March 17 general election.
Top-selling Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, already fiercely critical of his campaign, was spitting fire again on Monday.
“Netanyahu is going to Washington less in the role of a prime minister who is concerned for his citizens’ security and more in the role of a pyromaniac,” its veteran political analyst Shimon Shiffer wrote.
“In practice, there is no chance of preventing the agreement at the advanced stage that the talks have reached.”
Meanwhile, the White House denied reports that it would curb US aid to Israel in response to the duel with Netanyahu.
Israeli media alleged the Obama administration could trim some of the roughly $100 billion in existing aid and drag its feet on requests for more help with programs like the Magic Wand and the Arrow 3 missile intercept systems.
“The report is false,” said National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.
At Monday’s conference, Netanyahu won thunderous applause and a standing ovation for his speech and his closing sentence: “Thank you AIPAC, thank you America. God bless you all.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce, who was in the audience, said Netanyahu struck the right tone with a “very strong” speech.
“The issue here is about Iran, about Iran getting undetectable nuclear breakout capability,” he told AFP.
“We’ve been gradually lifting sanctions, releasing the pressure on Iran while Iran continues to move forward.”