Netanyahu to Congress: ‘We Are Better Off’ Without the Emerging U.S. Deal With Iran

The Israeli prime minister said on Tuesday that American-led negotiations have resulted in a potential “bad deal” on Iran’s nuclear program, and that “we are better off without it.”

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to address to Congress on March 3, 2015 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress without informing the White House.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Add to Briefcase
Marina Koren
March 3, 2015, 6:16 a.m.

Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu knows what every­one in Wash­ing­ton was think­ing this morn­ing.

“I know that my speech has been the sub­ject of much con­tro­versy,” the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter said dur­ing an ad­dress to a joint ses­sion of Con­gress on Tues­day. “I deeply re­gret that some per­ceive my be­ing here as polit­ic­al. That was nev­er my in­ten­tion. I want to thank you, Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans, for your com­mon sup­port for Is­rael year after year, dec­ade after dec­ade.”

Net­an­yahu re­ceived a warm wel­come in Con­gress, get­ting a stand­ing ova­tion be­fore he began speak­ing. He praised Pres­id­ent Obama for his sup­port of Is­rael, and thanked the U.S. “for everything you’ve done for Is­rael.”

(RE­LATED: Demo­crats Fear Net­an­yahu Boy­cott Deep­ens In­tern­al Di­vide)

Then, he got right to Ir­an.

“I’m stand­ing here in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and the dif­fer­ence is so stark,” Net­an­yahu said. “Amer­ica’s found­ing doc­u­ment prom­ises life, liberty, and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness. Ir­an’s found­ing doc­u­ment pledges death, tyranny, and the pur­suit of ji­had, and states are col­lapsing across the Middle East.”

Net­an­yahu, as ex­pec­ted, de­livered an ag­gress­ive warn­ing against the nuc­le­ar deal tak­ing shape between U.S. and Ir­a­ni­an of­fi­cials. “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 is a very bad deal,” he said. “We are bet­ter off without it.”

(RE­LATED: Net­an­yahu De­liv­ers Just What Obama Feared)

The deal emer­ging from Amer­ic­an-led ne­go­ti­ations, Net­an­yahu said, makes two sig­ni­fic­ant con­ces­sions: It leaves Ir­an with en­rich­ment in­fra­struc­ture that could al­low it to build a nuc­le­ar weapon in the fu­ture. And the in­ter­na­tion­al in­spect­ors the pact calls for will track any vi­ol­a­tions, he said, but they won’t be able to stop them.

“That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Ir­an’s path to the bomb, it paves Ir­an’s path to the bomb,” Net­an­yahu said. “So why would any­one make this deal? Be­cause they hope that Ir­an will change for the bet­ter in the com­ing years. Or they be­lieve that the al­tern­at­ive to this deal is worse. Well, I dis­agree. I don’t be­lieve that Ir­an’s rad­ic­al re­gime will change for the bet­ter after this deal.”

Of­fer­ing to lift U.S. sanc­tions against Ir­an is not the way to go either, he said. “If Ir­an wants to be treated like a nor­mal coun­try,” Net­an­yahu said, “let it act like a nor­mal coun­try.”

All sides in­volved in ne­go­ti­ations want to keep Ir­an from gain­ing the cap­ab­il­ity to ac­quire a nuc­le­ar weapon. Net­an­yahu has ex­pressed skep­ti­cism of the talks be­fore, say­ing that they threaten his coun­try’s na­tion­al se­cur­ity, but these re­marks had re­ceived con­sid­er­able more at­ten­tion be­cause of polit­ic­al im­plic­a­tions here and in Is­rael.

On Tues­day, the prime min­is­ter seemed to sug­gest that dip­lomacy alone, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves is the way to curb Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram, isn’t work­ing. “At a time when many hope that Ir­an will join the com­munity of na­tions, Ir­an is busy gob­bling up the na­tions,” he said. “We must all stand to­geth­er to stop Ir­an’s march of con­quest, sub­jug­a­tion, and ter­ror.”

Net­an­yahu said that Ir­an poses a more press­ing threat than the ter­ror­ist group Is­lam­ic State. “The dif­fer­ence is that IS­IS is armed with butcher knives, cap­tured weapons, and You­Tube,” he said. “Ir­an could be soon armed with in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­siles and nuc­le­ar bombs. We must al­ways re­mem­ber — I’ll say it one more time — the greatest danger fa­cing our world is the mar­riage of mil­it­ant Is­lam with nuc­le­ar weapons. To de­feat IS­IS and let Ir­an get nuc­le­ar weapons would be to win the battle but lose the war.”

In Janu­ary, House Speak­er John Boehner caught the White House off guard when, without con­sult­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, he in­vited Net­an­yahu to ad­dress Con­gress. On Cap­it­ol Hill, the vis­it quickly turned par­tis­an, and nearly 60 Demo­crats in the House and Sen­ate skipped Net­an­yahu’s vis­it in protest of what they be­lieve is an at­tack on Pres­id­ent Obama by con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans. On Monday, Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry, while speak­ing to re­port­ers in Geneva, in­dir­ectly warned Net­an­yahu against shar­ing in­form­a­tion about the on­go­ing talks dur­ing Tues­day’s speech.

(RE­LATED: The Cycle of Petu­lance in the U.S. and Is­rael)

In Is­rael, the vis­it is es­sen­tially a cam­paign stop for Net­an­yahu, whose Likud Party is fa­cing an elec­tion on March 17. It gives the prime min­is­ter a chance to build sup­port for his party at home, where voters are start­ing to won­der if his Ir­an policy is work­ing or has already failed.

Obama has said he won’t meet with Net­an­yahu this week so as not to ap­pear as if he is try­ing to in­flu­ence the Is­raeli elec­tions. White House press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est said Monday that the pres­id­ent didn’t watch Net­an­yahu’s speech at the Amer­ic­an Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee’s policy con­fer­ence, and that he likely won’t watch the en­tire ad­dress to Con­gress.

Many people were itch­ing to go to the his­tor­ic speech, however. Boehner’s of­fice told The New York Times it re­ceived re­quests for 10 times as many tick­ets as there were seats avail­able, and Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., said, “The tick­ets are hot­ter than fresh latkes.”

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