Political News

Netanyahu warns US 'bad deal' would put Iran on nuclear path

Posted March 3, 2015

— In a direct challenge to the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood before Congress on Tuesday and bluntly warned the U.S. that an emerging nuclear agreement with Iran "paves Iran's path to the bomb." President Barack Obama pushed back sternly, saying the U.S. would never sign such a deal and Netanyahu was offering no useful alternative.

In the U.S. spotlight for a day, the Israeli leader showed no uncertainty. "This is a bad deal. It is a very bad deal. We are better off without it," he declared in an emotionally charged speech that was arranged by Republicans, aggravated his already-strained relations with Obama and gambled with the longstanding bipartisan congressional support for Israel.

Two weeks ahead of voting in his own re-election back home, Netanyahu took the podium of the U.S. House where presidents often make major addresses, contending that any nuclear deal with Iran could threaten his nation's survival.

In a tone of disbelief, he said that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, "tweets that Israel must be annihilated — he tweets."

Republicans loudly cheered Netanyahu in the packed chamber, repeatedly standing. Democrats were more restrained, frustrated with the effort to undercut Obama's negotiations. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did little to hide her unease and later issued a blistering statement criticizing what she called Netanyahu's condescension.

At the White House, Obama said there was value in the current economic sanctions against Iran and also in the negotiations in Switzerland aimed at restraining Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"Sanctions alone are not sufficient," Obama said. "If Iran does not have some sense that sanctions will be removed, it will not have an interest in avoiding the path that it's currently on."

The administration says there is no deal yet, but Netanyahu insists he is privy to what is being put forth.

"If the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran, that deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons — lots of them," he declared. He acknowledged that any deal would likely include strict inspections, but he said "inspectors document violations; they don't stop them."

Obama declined to meet with the leader of Israel, a key U.S. ally, during this visit. Vice President Joe Biden was on a trip to Central America and so his seat as president of the Senate was filled by Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Senate president pro tempore.

As Netanyahu spoke, Secretary of State John Kerry was holding a three-hour negotiating session with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Swiss resort of Montreux in hopes of completing an international framework agreement later this month to curb Tehran's nuclear program.

According to Netanyahu, the deal on the table offers two major concessions: Iran would be left with a vast nuclear infrastructure and restrictions on Iran's nuclear program would be lifted in about a decade.

"It doesn't block Iran's path to the bomb," Netanyahu thundered. "It paves Iran's path to the bomb."

He said the U.S. and the other five nations in talks with Tehran should keep pressuring with economic sanctions because Tehran needs the deal most.

"Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff. They'll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do."

More than four dozen House and Senate Democrats said in advance they would not attend the event, highly unusual given historically close ties between the two allies. North Carolina Democrats G.K. Butterfield and David Price boycotted the speech.

North Carolina Republicans supported Netanyahu's stance.

“While the Obama administration criticized the Speaker of the House for inviting the elected leader of America’s greatest ally in the Middle East to address Congress, the real outrage is this administration’s insistence on reaching a deal with the Iranian regime – even a bad one – without approval from Congress," Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said in a statement.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said it was unfortunate for Netanyahu to ask for America's support.

"Over the last six years, I have watched this administration’s foreign policy failures in the Middle East pile up and erode our relationship with Israel," he said in a statement. "I will continue to support the United States’ partnership and am thankful for the prime minister’s address to Congress today.”

Many of Netanyahu's comments were greeted by loud applause from U.S. lawmakers, but not everyone was persuaded by his rhetoric.

Pelosi issued a statement saying she was "near tears throughout the prime minister's speech — saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate would debate next week on legislation that would allow a congressional vote on any deal reached with Iran.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a key Democratic sponsor of that legislation, objected to McConnell's plan to fast-track the bill. "I am more than disappointed. I'm outraged," Menendez said.

McConnell said legislation for stiffer sanctions could well be considered.

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who has co-authored sanctions legislation, said Netanyahu's speech would sway more lawmakers to support his bill. "I think that's why Pelosi is crying so much on TV," Kirk said.

The sanctions legislation he has introduced with Menendez was approved by the Senate Banking Committee. Kirk predicted it would garner the 67 votes in the Senate that would be enough to override a presidential veto. "It really doesn't matter what the president does," he said.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called Netanyahu's speech "electrifying." Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., called it "phenomenal" in clearly stating "why this deal is going to be very damaging for world security, U.S. interests in Israel."

On the other side, Democrats said "alarmist" predictions by Netanyahu have been wrong before, most notably on the Iraq war.

"This is a prime minister who's never seen a war he didn't want our country to fight," said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.

Netanyahu's speech reverberated in Israel, too.

Said Isaac Herzog, who is running against Netanyahu: "The painful truth is that after the applause, Netanyahu remains alone and Israel remains isolated and the negotiations with Iran will continue without Israel. It won't change the (U.S.) government's position and will only widen the divide with our great friend and our only strategic ally."

In Tehran, spokeswoman of Iranian foreign ministry, Marzieh Afkham said Netanyahu's speech was a "deceitful show" and part of a campaign by hardliners in Tel Aviv ahead of the election in Israel.


Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello, Matthew Daly, Charles Babington, Donna Cassata, David Espo, Nedra Picker and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.


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  • Dorinda Hayes Mar 4, 2015
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    Why don't you people educate yourself. IT is protocol for elected officials not to meet during an election. Elections were going on when Obama was planned to go there. This was mean and disrespectful today. Oh yeah, republicans. That's about right

  • Amy LaFluer Mar 3, 2015
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    I don't find him coming to speak as a insult. This decision effects them, therefore they had every right to at least address this with us. I find that to be honest and up front with their issues and fears. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Amy LaFluer Mar 3, 2015
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    View quoted thread

    The spelling doesn't discredit the good argument.

  • Christopher Rose Mar 3, 2015
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    Charles, you my friend hit the nail on the head. Support for Israel in this country is based more on evangelical Christianity than any rational foreign policy. And since I was raised in that lunacy I laugh too that it seems the folks in Israel willing to exploit this support overlook the part about Jews converting or dying. Its pretty bad when your foreign policy is based around fairy tales. And yeah. as a result we have been walking around for the last 50 years with a target on our backs for this. It would be one thing if they were a loyal ally. But they have spied on us. Stolen technology from us. Regularly pilfer commercial trade secrets of our companies. Heck they even bombed one of our ships when they thought we might see them committing war crimes against Egyptians back int he last Arab Israeli war. Some friends.

  • Christopher Rose Mar 3, 2015
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    Yeah the last president to negotiate with those iranian terrorists was ur great leader Ronald Reagan that the right worships so much as a saint. He gave them a huge chunk of the missiles they have in exchange for hostages. And you call Obama a weak leader?

  • Christopher Rose Mar 3, 2015
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    TO all the people criticizing Obama. My question to you is this. So we don't make a deal. Then what? Are you going to start a land war with Iran. After the debacle in Iraq? I mean it's going so swimmingly now! And how will you finance that exactly? We still haven't paid for IRaq and your great leaders want more tax cuts. Because much like Iraq you better plan on an never ending occupation and insurgent warfare. And if you think for one second the Russians won't step in quietly and help the Iranians you are mistaken. Meanwhile since you decide NO deal was better you have zero visibility into what they are doing. Oh and BTW they have now decided for their own continued protection and existence they will fast track it since we are now threatening a war. So again I ask the Joseph Shepherd and Judy Fergeson what their bright idea is. How many kids they are willing to contribute, and how much in taxes they are willing to pay for this endeavor.

  • Dominic Leuci Mar 3, 2015
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    Not that I support Iran's nuclear program at all but you people do realize that Pakistan, the country the harbored Usama Bin Laden, has had and tested nuclear weapons for almost 20 years...

  • Luther Ingram Mar 3, 2015
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    Obama would rather watch some lady eat fruit loops out of a bathtub than watch a true leader speak. Whats up with that?

  • Jimmy Jordan Mar 3, 2015
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    But the government and media said Iran was going to have this nuke over 10 years ago. If I was surrounded by nukes I'd want one too.

  • Judy Fergerson Mar 3, 2015
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    Benjamin Netanyahu address to Congress today lets every American know he doesn't have the luxury of sitting by and listening to the foolishness of Obama. His country faces an existential threat every day from Iran and other hostile neighbors, and he can't afford to sit quietly while an unserious American president makes a moronic deal with the nation that has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. If that upsets Obama - too bad. Americans aren't used to seeing leaders address Congress, especially in the last six years. Today we did, because Israel has a leader. We have a joke.