Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his planned address Tuesday to the US Congress on Iran’s nuclear programme is not intended as a sign of disrespect to US President Barack Obama.
The speech, which has caused a public rift between the two leaders, is instead intended to “speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel,” Netanyahu told the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington Monday.
“I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there’s still time to avert them,” he said.
Iran is negotiating a deal with Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany to curb Tehran’s uranium enrichment and other parts of its nuclear programme in return for ending economic sanctions on Tehran.
Iran and the six powers aim to work out the main points of the deal by the end of the month, but they still disagree over how much and for how long Iran has to scale back its nuclear activities, and how fast the economic sanctions can be lifted.
Netanyahu called Iran the “foremost state sponsor of terrorism,” said it wants to annihilate Israel and warned that if Tehran were to develop nuclear weapons, it would become even more dangerous.
The US and Israel both agree on the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons but disagree on how to do so, he told the pro-Israel US lobbying group. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said US and Israeli interests on Iran coincided.
“The good news for Prime Minister Netanyahu is that in almost every situation, what’s good for the United States also happens to be good for Israel,” he said.
Critics have slammed his congressional speech as meddling in US politics, and Obama, a Democrat, was angered that Republicans in Congress invited the Israeli leader without consulting the White House. Netanyahu pointed to the strong alliance between the US and Israel and said it would not be in Israel’s interests for the alliance to become a partisan issue in the US.
“I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here this week as doing that,” the prime minister said. “Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry gave Israel strong backing Monday at the
UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting Washington’s close ties with the country despite the controversy over Netanyahu’s visit. No country was free from scrutiny when it comes to human rights, Kerry said at the UN council, where Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has been frequently discussed and denounced.
“But we will oppose any effort by any group or participant in the UN system to arbitrarily and regularly delegitimize or isolate Israel, not just in the Human Rights Council, but wherever it occurs,” Kerry said.
Later Monday, in Montreux near Geneva, Kerry started a new round of nuclear talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The two diplomats would continue their negotiations on Tuesday and likely also on Wednesday, diplomats said.
The talks are aimed at shutting down four pathways for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon: by addressing enrichment capacity at the Natanz and Fordow facilities, dealing with the heavy water reactor being constructed at Arak and not allowing Iran to pursue a covert nuclear facility, Earnest said.
Netanyahu said he seeks to keep Iran from having the ability to build a nuclear weapon, but Earnest maintained that the Israeli leader has not outlined how he would do that. In Washington, Obama administration officials also sought to reassure Israel.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told AIPAC, “The United States of America will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period.”
The nuclear deal with Tehran would curb Iran’s civilian nuclear programme and reduce the risk that it could be used for starting a nuclear weapons arsenal. In return, Iran is to get sanctions relief. National Security Adviser Susan Rice later urged AIPAC to drop any insistence that Iran entirely forego domestic nuclear capacity.
“That is not a viable negotiating position nor is it attainable,” Rice said. “No one can make Iran unlearn the science and nuclear capabilities it already possesses.”
Israel, which is widely believed to have atomic weapons, feels threatened by Tehran’s nuclear capabilities and worries that Tehran’s religious leaders are not negotiating in good faith. These views are shared by some US lawmakers who are threatening to impose new sanctions on Iran, a move that the Obama administration is trying to avoid. SAPA