Netanyahu Says Congress Speech Needed to Warn Against Iran Deal

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, left, looks on as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 3, 2014.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will go “everywhere I’m invited” to warn against a nuclear deal with Iran, as criticism mounted over his planned speech on the negotiations to the U.S. Congress.

“As prime minister of Israel, I am obligated to make every effort to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons that would be aimed at Israel,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem today. “This effort is worldwide and I will go anywhere I am invited in order to enunciate the State of Israel’s position and in order to defend its future and its existence,” he said according to an e-mailed statement from his office.

Netanyahu accepted House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a joint session of Congress on March 3, in a move that wasn’t coordinated with President Barack Obama’s administration. Critics say the measure is meant to undercut Obama’s efforts to negotiate a deal with the Iranians and will hurt Israel by damaging ties with the White House. They also say the speech will give the prime minister an unfair boost before Israel’s March 17 elections.

“This is a poke in the eye” of the Obama administration, “and ultimately a blow to Israel,” said lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich of the opposition Labor party. “In exchange for giving a campaign speech, Netanyahu is prepared to hurt our relationship with the U.S.,” Yachimovich said today on Israel Radio.

Republicans and some Democrats in Congress seek new economic and diplomatic sanctions on the government in Tehran, a move that could kill any nuclear deal. Obama said in his State of the Union address that he would veto any proposed legislation that increases sanctions. Netanyahu backs tougher penalties.

Sanctions were imposed to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons technology. Iran says its nuclear program is designed only for energy and medical uses, and other Middle Eastern nations say Israel harbors the region’s only atomic arsenal. Israel neither confirms nor denies possessing atomic weapons.

Netanyahu’s former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called on him to cancel his Congressional address.

“His behavior over the last few days created the impression that this is a cynical political move, and it could hurt our attempts to act against Iran,” said Oren, now campaigning for parliament on the list of the newly formed Kulanu party, in an interview Saturday on Channel 2 television.

Ties between Netanyahu and Obama have historically been strained over issues including peacemaking with the Palestinians and how to contain Iran’s nuclear program. Obama won’t meet Netanyahu when he comes to Washington to deliver his speech because it’s too close to the Israeli elections, the White House said.

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