Obama says Netanyahu’s Iran speech contains ‘nothing new’
US President Barack Obama has reacted scathingly to a speech by the Israeli prime minister that castigated his policy towards Iran.
In a speech to the US Congress, Benjamin Netanyahu warned that a deal under discussion on Iran’s nuclear programme could “pave Iran’s path to the bomb” rather than block it.
But Mr Obama said Mr Netanyahu had offered no viable alternative.
Other senior Democrats – and Iran – also criticised Mr Netanyahu.
The Israeli leader’s visit was controversial from the start, because the Republican speaker invited him without consulting the White House.
The US president announced he would not meet Mr Netanyahu, who is fighting in a closely contested national election in just two weeks’ time.
Talks on Iran’s nuclear programme are nearing a critical late-March deadline for an outline agreement to be reached.
In a speech to the US Congress regularly punctuated by standing ovations Mr Netanyahu depicted Iran as a “threat to the entire world”.
He insisted Iran had proven time and time again that it could not be trusted.
Mr Netanyahu went on to criticise the likely contours of the deal currently being negotiated in Switzerland, where Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday.
“We’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal,” he said. “Well this is a bad deal, a very bad deal, We’re better off without it.”
He said it relied heavily on international monitoring, when Iran “plays a pretty good game of ‘hide and cheat’ with UN inspectors”.
Mr Netanyahu received a rapturous reception for his speech, but dozens of Democrats – including Vice President Joe Biden – stayed away.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi at times refused to clap and later issued a statement saying Mr Netanyahu’s speech had been an “insult to the intelligence of the United States” that had left her near tears.Mr Obama said he had been unable to watch the speech as it was given, but found “nothing new” when he read the transcript.
“The alternative that the prime minister offers is ‘no deal’, in which case Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its nuclear programme, accelerate its nuclear programme without us having any insight into what they are doing and without constraint,” he said.
He said sanctions alone were not sufficient without offering Iran an alternative path.
The state department later complained about Mr Netanyahu’s claim that Mr Kerry had “confirmed last week that Iran might legitimately possess” 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium by the end of any deal and would be “weeks away” from an “arsenal of nuclear weapons”.
The state department said: “That’s not what Kerry said. He [said]: ‘If you have a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately and not a threat to proliferation, you could have as many as 190,000.”
Other Democrats criticised the speech, with Representative John Yarmuth calling it “straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook – fear-mongering at its worst”.
Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign ministry said Mr Netanyahu’s words were “boring and repetitive”, Fars news agency reported.Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the “Iranophobic” speech was a “deceitful show and part of the election campaign of Tel Aviv’s hardliners”.Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals in Israel’s election face a dilemma as the applause from the speech in Washington begins to die down.
It’s been hugely frustrating for them to watch him walking the world stage and worse still watching the speech on television.
They are the kind of television images you cannot buy in an election campaign – the Houses of Congress rising repeatedly in standing ovations.
But if they repeat their warnings that Mr Netanyahu is endangering Israeli security by alienating the White House they risk protracting a story which has played to the prime minister’s advantage.
Many of them, like the opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, feel they’re just as tough on Iran as Mr Netanyahu – they just don’t have access to the world stage as he does.
Nuclear Iran: What world powers want – and what they fear
World powers imposed sanctions on Iran because they felt it was not being honest about its nuclear programme and was seeking the ability to build a nuclear bomb.
Tehran denied this. Talks between Iran and six world powers known as the P5+1 have tried to allay the suspicions in exchange for easing the sanctions
Specifically, the world powers want to curtail Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, which can be used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons
Disagreement centres on how to limit Iran’s development and use of centrifuges that enrich uranium
Faster enrichment would cut the time Iran would need to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a weapon, were it to choose to do so. The US wants this “break-out window” to be at least a year long
It is not known if Iran has a warhead or suitable delivery system.
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