Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Congress on Tuesday that a potential nuclear deal being negotiated by major powers including the United States “paves Iran's path to the bomb."
Netanyahu, who vehemently opposes the Obama administration's ongoing negotiations with Iran, said that world leaders must instead work to "stop Iran's march of conquest, subjugation and terror.”
"It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb," he said of the potential deal as he appeared at the Capitol in front of hundreds of American lawmakers. "It paves Iran’s path to the bomb. "
"For over a year we've been told that no deal is better than a bad deal," he added. "Well, this is a bad deal. It's a very bad deal. We are better off without it."
He rejected the idea that the only alternative to a nuclear agreement would be war, instead proposing that world leaders should seek a better deal.
Netanyahu opened his remarks with a nod to the controversy over his appearance, saying “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.”
Before Netanyahu even arrived in Washington, the speech laid bare a largely partisan divide over the delicate relationship between Israel and the United States. House Republican leaders extended the invitation to Netanyahu without first consulting the White House, a move considered to be a breach in protocol. Many Democrats viewed the invitation as a transparent attempt by more hawkish Republicans to undermine Obama’s efforts to forge a nuclear deal with Iran. And other critics accused Netanyahu of attempting to use Congress as a backdrop to boost his political standing at home just over two weeks from his own hotly contested election.
More than 50 Democrats boycotted the speech. And neither President Barack Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden, who was traveling in Central America, attended. The White House has cited a long-standing precedent of avoiding the perception of interfering in foreign elections, noting Netanyahu’s upcoming contest.
Both Obama and Netanyahu have tried in recent days to downplay their frayed relationship, each emphasizing that the two countries remain steadfast allies. But a stark difference of approaches to the Iran issue has remained.
On Monday, Netanyahu previewed his critique of the Iran negotiations when he addressed a group of thousands of pro-Israel activists in Washington D.C.
“I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them,” he said. “For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless.” He added: “Today, we are no longer silent. Today, we have a voice. And tomorrow, as prime minister of the one and only Jewish state, I plan to use that voice.”
Obama suggested in an interview with Reuters later Monday afternoon that Netanyahu’s previous dire warnings about a 2013 interim deal with Iran did not come to fruition.
“Netanyahu made all sorts of claims. This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting 50 billion dollars worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true,” he said. “It has turned out that in fact, during this period we’ve seen Iran not advance its program. In many ways, it’s rolled back elements of its program."