WASHINGTON — The nuclear deal now being negotiated between Iran, the United States and its allies “doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Congress Tuesday.
But despite the friction with the White House caused by his appearance to a joint meeting of Congress, Netanyahu struck a more conciliatory tone, saying the relationship between the United States and Israel “has always been above politics, and must always remain above politics.”
“I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That has never been my intention,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of his 40-minute address to a packed House chamber. “I know that no matter which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel.”
Netanyahu then laid out a multi-count indictment against the Iranian regime, saying Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei spews “the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated. He tweets!” Netanyahu said, his voice cracking and pausing to take a drink of water.
He accused Iran of playing a game of “hide and cheat” with nuclear inspectors, saying it’s been caught twice operating secret nuclear facilities. “Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about,” he said. “Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted.”
The United States and five other world powers are negotiating a deal with Iran that would seek to put at least a decade-long halt to its nuclear program.
That’s not long enough for Netanyahu, who called equated 10 years to “the blink of an eye” in terms of the history of Israel.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Monday that a permanent halt to Iran’s nuclear capability was unrealistic because negotiating partners on the United Nations Security Council don’t support that.
“If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us, undermining the sanctions we have imposed so effectively together. Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position,” Rice told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group.
Netanyahu urged the United States to enact tougher sanctions in order to force a harder line against Iran, and such legislation is already being debated in the Senate. But President Obama has threatened to veto any such legislation, saying it could derail the talks.
On the eve of Netanyahu’s speech, the Obama administration sought to allay fears that the Iran negotiations would result in a bad deal for Israel or the United States. The goal, Obama told the Reuters news agency in an interview Monday, would be to ensure “there’s at least a year between us seeing them try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one.”
Netanyahu said that “breakout time” would be even shorter in Israel’s assessment — and that by the time violations are discovered it may be too late. “Inspectors document violations. They don’t stop them,” he said.