Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up his attacks against the U.S.-led effort to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, as aides tried to contain fallout from his planned speech to Congress on the subject.
The Politico website and CNN reported Wednesday that some top Democrats were considering skipping the March 3 address.
Current negotiations would leave Iran “on the verge of becoming a nuclear power with international agreement, and with all the easing of sanctions it has requested,” Netanyahu said Thursday, according to a text message from his office. “It is my obligation as the prime minister of Israel to warn about this danger and to do everything in my power to prevent it from coming to fruition before it’s too late.”
A day earlier, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Ron Dermer and Yuli Edelstein, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party who serves as speaker of the parliament, met with Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington. Politico reported that the Israelis failed to quell Democratic concerns over Netanyahu’s congressional speech, which was organized with Republican House Speaker John Boehner without notifying President Barack Obama.
Seven Jewish Democratic members of Congress, including Representatives Steve Israel and Nita Lowey of New York and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, told Dermer they’re considering boycotting Netanyahu’s address, the website reported. CNN quoted Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Chris Coons, and independent Angus King, as saying they haven’t yet made a decision.
Samantha Slater, a spokeswoman for Steve Israel, disputed the Politico account, saying the lawmakers didn’t threaten a boycott. Matt Wojtkun, press secretary for Lowey, said she is “in no way considering boycotting the address.” Spokesman Sean Bartlett said it is “completely inaccurate” to say Wasserman Schultz was among the people who told Dermer she was considering skipping the speech.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest was non-committal over whether Vice President Joe Biden would attend, telling reporters “We’re still working through exactly what the vice president’s schedule is going to look like that first week in March,” Earnest said.
Israeli leaders typically attract a full house when they address joint sessions of Congress, drawing repeated standing ovations from a bipartisan audience.
Netanyahu’s planned speech, which he has said will discuss the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program, has exacerbated his tensions with Obama. The leaders have clashed over issues including peacemaking with the Palestinians and U.S. policy on Iran.
The Iranian government denies allegations that its nuclear program is a cover to build weapons and says it’s meant for energy production and medical use.
Israel’s opposition Labor party has criticized the timing of Netanyahu’s speech so soon before the country’s March 17 election, charging the prime minister with damaging relations with the U.S. for domestic political gain.
Edelstein spokesman Eran Sidis had no comment on the parliament speaker’s meetings in Washington. Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said the prime minister is proceeding with the congressional address as planned.