WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the United States yesterday to seek a better deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program and said he would press American lawmakers not to give Tehran “a free path to the bomb.”
President Barack Obama, hoping to sway skeptics at home and abroad to get behind the framework agreement struck on Thursday between world powers and Iran, defended the deal as the best hope to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Obama, whose relations with Netanyahu have frayed badly over the Iran issue, sought to assure Israelis he understands their concerns. They should know “there is no formula, there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward – and that’s demonstrable,” he said in an interview with The New York Times published yesterday. (http://nyti.ms/1IhMLSS)
The Israeli prime minister has been strongly critical of the deal struck on Thursday in Switzerland, saying it threatens the survival of Israel. Netanyahu said he has spoken with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress – nearly two thirds of House of Representatives members and a similar number in the U.S. Senate – about the Iran nuclear issue.
In appearances on U.S. television yesterday, Netanyahu did not repeat his assertion on Friday that any final agreement should include a commitment by Iran recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
But, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, he said of the deal, “This is not a partisan issue. This is not solely an Israeli issue. This is a world issue because everyone is going to be threatened by the pre-eminent terrorist state of our time, keeping the infrastructure to produce not one nuclear bomb but many, many nuclear bombs down the line.”
Netanyahu angered the White House and alienated some of Obama’s Democrats when he accepted a Republican invitation to address Congress and speak out against the looming agreement on March 3, two weeks before the Israeli elections that returned him to office.
Netanyahu denied he was coordinating with House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, who visited Israel last week, and with other Republicans to block the Iran deal.
But he denounced the framework agreement between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, saying, “There’s still time to get a better deal and apply pressure to Iran to roll back its nuclear program.”
Israel, which is believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, says it believes Iran is committed to its destruction.
Obama told Netanyahu in a telephone call soon after the deal was reached that it represented progress toward a lasting solution that cuts off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.
Republicans, who control both chambers in Congress, and some Democrats are preparing legislation that would entail a vote in Congress on any Iran deal. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was waiting to learn more details about the framework agreement.
“I don’t know how someone can ascertain whether this is something good or bad,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Obama has said he would veto legislation demanding an up-or-down vote in Congress on any final deal worked out with Iran by the deadline of the end of June that has been agreed by Iran and the six powers.