President Barack Obama has dismissed a speech by Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu that castigated his policy towards Iran.
In a speech to the US Congress, Benjamin Netanyahu warned that a deal under discussion on Iran’s nuclear program could “pave Iran’s path to the bomb” rather than block it.
Barack Obama said Benjamin Netanyahu had offered no viable alternative.
Other senior Democrats – and Iran – also criticized Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit was controversial from the start, because Republican speaker John Boehner invited him without consulting the White House.
President Barack Obama announced he would not meet Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting in a closely contested national election in just two weeks’ time.
Talks on Iran’s nuclear program are nearing a critical late-March deadline for an outline agreement to be reached.
In a speech to the Congress regularly punctuated by standing ovations Benjamin Netanyahu depicted Iran as a “threat to the entire world”.
Benjamin Netanyahu went on to criticize the likely contours of the deal currently being negotiated in Switzerland, where Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met Secretary of State John Kerry on March 3.
“We’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal,” he said.
“Well this is a bad deal, a very bad deal, We’re better off without it.”
Benjamin Netanyahu said it relied heavily on international monitoring, when Iran “plays a pretty good game of <<hide and cheat>> with UN inspectors”.
The Israeli prime minister received a rapturous reception for his speech, but dozens of Democrats – including Vice President Joe Biden – stayed away.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi at times refused to clap and later issued a statement saying Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech had been an “insult to the intelligence of the United States” that had left her near tears.
Barack Obama said he had been unable to watch the speech as it was given, but found “nothing new” when he read the transcript.
“The alternative that the prime minister offers is <<no deal>>, in which case Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its nuclear program, accelerate its nuclear program without us having any insight into what they are doing and without constraint,” he said.
The president said sanctions alone were not sufficient without offering Iran an alternative path.
Other Democrats criticized the speech, with Representative John Yarmuth calling it “straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook – fear mongering at its worst”.
Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign ministry said Benjamin Netanyahu’s words were “boring and repetitive”, Fars news agency reported.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the “Iranophobic” speech was a “deceitful show and part of the election campaign of Tel Aviv’s hardliners”.
The US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China are seeking to reach agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
They fear Iran has ambitions to build a nuclear bomb – something Iran denies, insisting it is merely exercising its right to peaceful nuclear power.
Negotiators are currently working towards a late-March deadline for an outline agreement with Iran, which would be followed by a detailed deal by the end of June.
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