Netanyahu in US to Try to Thwart Agreement on Iran Nuclear Program

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Anti-Israel demonstrators wearing masks bearing the likeness of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and holding up "bloody" hands protest March 1, 2015 outside the Washington Convention Center, where Netanyahu is due to speak on Monday. AFP/Michael Mathes.

Published Monday, March 2, 2015

Updated at 4:17 pm (GMT+2): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ramped up his mission to foil an emerging White House-backed nuclear deal with Iran as he prepared to give a speech on Monday to the powerful pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Netanyahu infuriated the White House and Democratic lawmakers by accepting an invitation by Obama's Republican foes to also speak on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Netanyahu is scheduled to speak in front of AIPAC on Monday evening. Also addressing the 16,000 AIPAC delegates are Washington's United Nations envoy Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who last week slammed Netanyahu's move to speak before a joint session of the US Congress without the blessing of the administration.

Obama has refused to meet Netanyahu during his visit, and US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry will both be abroad.

A member of Netanyahu's entourage told journalists traveling with him on Sunday that there was no intention to offend Obama.

"We are trying to explain to the Americans what is causing us concern," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We know a great deal about the emerging agreement... In our view, it is a bad agreement."

The official would not indicate the source of the "excellent information" Israelis have about the deal between the Islamic republic and six world powers that would prevent Tehran from developing its nuclear program.

But he said Netanyahu would elaborate in his congressional address.

In return for Tehran's agreement, the West would ease punishing sanctions imposed over its nuclear program, which Iran insists is purely civilian.

Netanyahu's trip came just four weeks before a March 31 target for a framework deal with Iran. Negotiators intended to pin down the technical details of a comprehensive agreement by June 30.

The Israeli official suggested that if a satisfactory agreement cannot be achieved within that timeframe, talks should be extended.

On Wednesday, Kerry said that Netanyahu was wrong to oppose negotiations with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program, adding, "he was wrong. And today he's saying, ‘Oh, we should extend that interim agreement.’"

On February 23, leaks from Netanyahu’s secret service also contradicted his claim in 2012 that Iran was less than a year away from making a nuclear bomb.

Weeks after the Netanyahu’s speech in 2012, Mossad shared a report with South African intelligence which concluded Iran was "not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons," according to The Guardian.

On Saturday, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported that Obama thwarted an Israeli military attack against Iran's nuclear facilities in 2014.

Al-Jarida newspaper quoted "well-placed" sources as saying that Netanyahu had taken a decision to carry out airstrikes against Iran's nuclear program after consultations with his ministers, but Obama threatened to shoot down Israeli jets before they could reach their targets in Iran.

Meanwhile, on late Sunday Kerry arrived in Switzerland for new round of talks on Iran and Ukraine. Kerry is to step up the pace of nuclear talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif with a series of meetings planned over the next three days seeking to seal a political deal by the March 31 deadline.

"We have proven that we have slowed Iran's — even set back — its nuclear program," Kerry told ABC, referring to a November 2013 interim deal under which Tehran halted most of its enrichment activities in return for sanctions relief.

Kerry on Monday warned Israel's prime minister against revealing details at his upcoming speech to US Congress of an Iran nuclear deal that world powers are in the process of negotiating.

While he did not mention Benjamin Netanyahu by name, Kerry told reporters in Geneva he was "concerned by reports" that "selective details" of the deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear programme would be revealed in the coming days.

On Monday, Zarif said that a deal on Iran's nuclear program could be concluded this week if the United States and other Western countries have sufficient political will and agree to remove sanctions on Tehran.

"Our negotiating partners, particularly the Western countries and particularly the United States, must once and for all come to the understanding that sanctions and agreement don't go together," he said in Geneva. "If they want an agreement, sanctions must go... We believe all sanctions must be lifted."

He told reporters that Iran, whose disagreement with six world powers over how fast sanctions should be dropped is one of the main obstacles to a final nuclear accord, had demonstrated its political will by bringing its highest authorities to the talks and leaving "no stone unturned."

A key stumbling block in any final deal between Iran and world powers is thought to be the amount of uranium Tehran would be allowed to enrich, and the number and type of centrifuges it can retain.

So far two deadlines for a comprehensive accord with the six world powers have been missed. Both sides agreed last year that a final deal must now be reached by June 30.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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