WASHINGTON — In a much-anticipated speech before a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted ongoing Iranian nuclear negotiations, arguing such talks will do little to stop a long-term global threat.
Netanyahu also said Iran must stop its support for terrorism around the world and threats to annihilate the state of Israel before any nuclear agreement is reached.
“This deal won’t change Iran for the better. It will only change the Middle East for the worse,” Netanyahu said.
Possible negotiations between the U.S. and Iran involve centrifuge limits and increased inspections. As a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program.
Netanyahu acknowledged the controversy leading up to the speech and expressed gratitude toward President Barack Obama for varied assistance to Israel. “I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.”
The two leaders, however, clearly disagree in their approach to the Iranian nuclear debate.
“My friends, for over 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,” Netanyahu said.
Any deal reached is set to expire in a decade, which Netanyahu said is too shortsighted.
A decade is “a blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It is a blink of an eye in the lives of our children.”
Obama, who said he did not watch the speech, reacted to the transcript Tuesday afternoon.
“The alternative the prime minister offers is no deal, in which case Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its nuclear program, accelerate its nuclear program without us having any insight into what they’re doing and without strength,” he said.
Iran has been entrenched in a debate over its nuclear program for years. It claims to be developing peaceful nuclear technology, but Israel and the U.S. suspect Iran may be trying to build a weapons program.
Netanyahu argued that Iran could wait out the next decade and then pursue a nuclear military campaign without the current stresses of economic sanctions.
Iran has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction—even vocally supporting Hamas during this summer’s Gaza conflict—thus raising concerns that if it were to attain a nuclear weapon, it would not hesitate to wipe the Jewish state off the map.
“The days when the Jewish people remain passive in the face of a genocidal regime, those days are over,” Netanyahu said. “Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”
Netanyahu’s speech was met with echoing support within the House chamber.
One of the more heartfelt ovations was Netanyahu’s recognition of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.
“I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said. “Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.”
Both the U.S. and Israel have worked to impede the Iranian nuclear program, and the U.S. has implemented sanctions. Yet the tide may be turning for the American-Iranian relationship.
Obama made it clear he wants to work with Iran, threatening to block legislation he thinks will undermine the negotiations.
“I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress,” the president said in his State of the Union address this year.
Netanyahu also urged the U.S. to not get soft on Iran, even in the face of the threat posed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
“The enemy of your enemy is your enemy,” he said. “Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam.”
House Speaker John Boehner in January invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress–without consulting the White House.
Israeli parliamentary elections are also scheduled to take place in two weeks, sparking debate as to if Netanyahu is using Congress to promote his re-election campaign in Israel. According to a Feb. 26 poll by Channel 10, a media outlet in Israel, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party is running second to the center-left Zionist Union.
“The president has said that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel can’t just be reduced to a relationship between the Republican Party and the Likud Party,” noted White House spokesman Josh Earnest recently aboard Air Force One.
Netanyahu drew further ire for arguing that he would come to Congress to speak for Jews around the world.
“…he doesn’t speak for me on this. He doesn’t at all speak for me on this… I think it’s a rather arrogant statement,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Cal., said in an interview with CNN.
Still, Feinstein was present for the speech while several members of Congress, including Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, declined to attend the event.
Outside the U.S. Capitol, a clash of opinions on Netanyahu speech
By Medha Imam and Astrid Goh
They came with opinions. Lots of opinion. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spoke to a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday, people gathered outside the U.S. Capitol. The air was filled with chants representing a diversity of thoughts and ideas, spanning from anti-Israel to pro-Palestine groups.Inside, Netanyahu blasted the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal in the works as a “bad deal” for Israel and, in fact, all of the world.