Obama Decries Netanyahu’s Congress Speech as “Theater”

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US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to the US Congress. AFP/Brendan Smialowski

Published Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Updated at 2:50 pm (GMT+2): US President Barack Obama on Tuesday dismissed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address before the US congress as a “theater,” saying: “I am not focused in the politics of this. I am not focused on the theater."

Netanyahu in his speech denounced Obama's drive for a nuclear accord with Iran, claiming that Washington was paving Tehran's path to a bomb.

After Netanyahu delivered an impassioned address to the US Congress, Obama retorted that the Israeli leader had no plan of his own to contain the Iranian threat.

And, with US Secretary of State John Kerry in talks with his Iranian counterpart in Switzerland, the "P5+1" world powers pressed on for an accord that would limit Iran's nuclear options while loosening economic sanctions.

Netanyahu in a barnstorming speech to a packed joint session of Congress, pulled no punches in his denunciation of the accord that he expects Tehran to be offered before the month is out.

"That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons," he declared. "It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons."

Netanyahu’s remarks came few days after The Guardian daily published leaks from Israeli secret service Mossad which showed that, contrary to the Israeli premier’s claims, Iran was "not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons."

Obama did not watch the speech, having arranged a video conference with European leaders on the crisis in Ukraine, but afterwards he gave the Israeli leader's argument short shrift.

“As far as I can tell, there was nothing new,” said Obama.

"On the core issue, which is how to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the prime minister did not offer any viable alternatives."

"We don't yet have a deal (with Iran)," Obama added. "But if we are successful then, in fact, this will be the best deal possible to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons."

Netanyahu on Wednesday brushed aside criticism from Obama and insisted that he had "presented a practical alternative, which would impose tougher restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, extending Iran's breakout time by years."

"I also called on the P5+1 to insist on a deal that would link the lifting of those restrictions to Iran's ceasing its sponsorship of terrorism around the world, its aggression against its neighbors and its calls for Israel's destruction," he said upon his return to Occupied Palestine.

On Tuesday, leading House Democrat Nancy Pelosi also criticized Netanyahu’s address and said she had been "saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States."

Iran denounced Netanyahu's intervention — even as Tehran's envoys sat with Kerry in Montreux to hammer out the nuclear agreement ahead of a March 31 deadline.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham accused Netanyahu of spreading lies about Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran insists is peaceful.

The anti-Iranian policy "is facing serious problems because of the continuous talks and Iran's serious determination to overcome this fabricated crisis," she was quoted as saying.

And she dismissed the speech as repetitive, boring and a "sign of weakness."

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also implicitly criticized Netanyahu, warning against "spreading fears" and promising that a deal is getting close.

Iran-US nuclear talks continues

On Wednesday, the US and Iranian foreign ministers began a third day of talks over Iran's nuclear program, just hours after Netanyahu had warned that the deal being negotiated was a serious mistake.

Kerry and Iran's Mohammed Javad Zarif resumed their discussions in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux, hoping to work out a framework deal by late March.

Iran and world powers are trying to put a framework agreement in place by the end of the month, despite the misgivings of Israel, US congressional Republicans and some Gulf Arab states.

Such an accord would be followed by a comprehensive agreement to be completed by the end of June.

The aim of the negotiations is to persuade Iran to restrain its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions that have crippled the oil exporter's economy.

The United States and some of its allies, notably Israel, have suspected Iran of using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies this, saying it is for peaceful purposes such as generating electricity.

Meanwhile, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday the Senate would begin debate next week on a bill that would require Obama to submit any final nuclear deal with Iran for approval by Congress.

McConnell, a Republican, told his weekly news conference that he intended to have the bill debated and potentially voted on in the Senate next week. His remarks set up a potential showdown with Democrats, who want to allow more time for negotiations with Iran.

Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) representatives will meet Iranian officials in Tehran on March 9 to discuss technical details of Iran's nuclear work, the UN atomic watchdog said on Wednesday.

The IAEA says Iran has been stalling its investigation while negotiations between Tehran and six world powers are continuing.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)


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