Israel PM in US to warn on risks of Iran nuclear deal

Defying US president Barack Obama, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington to warn Congress about the risks of a possible nuclear deal with Iran in a speech that has imperilled ties between the two allies.

Israel fears that Obama’s Iran diplomacy, with an end-of-March deadline for a framework accord, will allow its arch foe to develop atomic weapons — something Tehran denies seeking.

By accepting an invitation from the Republican party to address Congress today, the Israeli leader infuriated the Obama administration, which said it was not told of the speech before plans were made public in an apparent protocol breach.

Earlier this week, Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, said the partisanship caused by Netanyahu’s looming address was “destructive to the fabric of US-Israeli ties”.

However, Netanyahu, who is running for re-election in a March 17 ballot, framed his visit as being above politics and has portrayed himself yesterday as being a guardian for all Jews.

“I’m going to Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission,” he said as he boarded his plane in Tel Aviv. “I feel that I am an emissary of all Israel’s citizens, even those who do not agree with me, and of the entire Jewish people.”

US officials fear he is seeking to sabotage the Iran diplomacy, and critics have suggested his visit is an elaborate election stunt that will play well with voters back home.

While White House and Israeli officials insist that key areas of co-operation from counter-terrorism to intelligence to cyber security will remain unaffected, the deepening divide over the Iran talks is shaping up as the worst in decades.

Previously, Israel has always been careful to navigate between the Republican and Democrat camps. The planned address, however, has driven a rare wedge between Netanyahu’s government and some congressional Democrats. Some two dozen of them plan to boycott the speech, according to unofficial estimates.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US deserves “the benefit of the doubt” to see if a nuclear deal can be reached.

Speaking in Tehran, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Netanyahu of trying to undermine the nuclear talks in order to distract from the Palestinians’ unresolved bid for an independent state.

“Netanyahu is opposed to any sort of solution,” Zarif said.



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