Netanyahu: Iran deal will start countdown to ‘nuclear nightmare’

Greg Nash

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Tuesday address to Congress warned lawmakers that President Obama’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran would start the countdown to a “nuclear nightmare.”

The Israeli leader, who was frequently interrupted by rousing ovations during his 40-minute speech, urged lawmakers to oppose the negotiations, even as he sought to lower the temperature on the partisan fight surrounding his address, which was boycotted by senior administration officials and more than 50 Democrats.

Netanyahu sought to ensure bipartisan support for his country remains a hallmark of U.S.-Israeli relations, even as he forcefully argued that Obama’s diplomatic efforts with Tehran are dangerous.

{mosads}“The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu argued. “We can’t let that happen.”

He said the emerging deal “would all but guarantee” that Iran gets nuclear weapons — “lots of them.”
“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.
The Israeli leader said the world should demand that Iran end its aggression against neighbors in the Middle East, stop supporting terrorism around the world; and “stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.”

“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.

Netanyahu said that without a “dramatic change,” the current negotiations will result in a deal that would let Iran keep most of its nuclear program, while relying too heavily on inspectors who, he said, have been tricked before.
Netanyahu compared Iran to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and warned the U.S. that even though Tehran is fighting ISIS, it should not think of one as being less of a threat than the other.
“Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. … In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel,” he said. “So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Netanyahu began his speech by seeking to smooth over differences with Democrats.

He said he was glad to see Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who was absent for weeks from Congress after falling off an exercise machine.

“It’s good to see you back,” Netanyahu told Reid, who he described as a friend of Israel.

Reid stood briefly as Republicans and Democrats alike rose to give him a standing ovation.

The Israeli leader then immediately sought to defuse the politics behind his speech.

“I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political,” he said from the House floor. 

Netanyahu added that supporting Israel should not be a partisan issue. 

“I know that no matter which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel,” he said, bringing the bipartisan audience to its feet again. 

Democrats were angered that Netanyahu accepted an invitation from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to speak to Congress without informing the White House. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after Netanyahu’s address described it as an “insult” to U.S. intelligence.
“The unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel are rooted in our shared values, our common ideals and mutual interests,” Pelosi said in a statement just after the speech.
“That is why, as one who values the U.S.–Israel relationship, and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech — saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5+1 nations [the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany], and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”
Pelosi appeared agitated during the address. As Netanyahu gave his speech, Pelosi repeatedly spoke and used forceful gestures to her seatmate, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). 
Pelosi reluctantly joined in one standing ovation as Netanyahu criticized the Iran nuclear negotiations, and took much longer to rise from her seat compared with other lawmakers. 
During the final standing ovation at the end of Netanyahu’s speech, Pelosi only joined in the clapping briefly and stopped long before everyone else around her. 
The audience in Congress was littered with luminaries, including former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and former Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, were in the audience seated with the Gingriches and Boehner’s wife, Debbie.

Vice President Biden was not seated behind Netanyahu. His place behind Netanyahu was taken by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). 

Obama and other U.S. officials are not meeting Netanyahu, who is up for reelection in two weeks.

Despite the absences of more than 50 Democrats, however, every seat in the House Chamber was filled.

Three rows on the Democratic side of the chamber were filled with members of the diplomatic corps. All of the galleries above the chamber were also packed. Congressional staff stood crammed in the back of the chamber.

Netanyahu waved to the crowd as he walked toward the podium and was met with cheers like a celebrity.

Administration officials and Netanyahu have tried this week to play down the perceived gap between the United States and Israel.  

Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the Israeli leader “is welcome to speak in the United States,” while Netanyahu said Monday that he has a “great respect” for Obama and the presidency. 

“The last thing that I would want is for Israel to become a partisan issue,” he said during a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  

But, there are real differences over how to handle the talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Negotiators face a deadline at the end of this month for finalizing an outline for a final agreement. 

More than 60 percent of Americans support a deal with Iran that would curb its enrichment while also including strict inspection measures, according to a poll released Tuesday conducted by the Program for Public Consultation and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.

— This story was updated at 12:54 p.m.

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu Israel

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