White House officials refute Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to the US Congress, arguing he has failed to offer any feasible alternative to nuclear talks with Iran.
“The alternative to not having a deal is losing inspections” of Iran’s nuclear facilities, a senior administration official said in a briefing for reporters Friday, The New York Times reports.
Iran and the P5+1 group of states – the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany – are holding talks to narrow their remaining differences ahead of a July 1 deadline for a final agreement.
“We have made a substantial amount of progress,” the senior official said. “Ultimately, Iran has to make a very significant political decision to allow the flexibility to close this deal.”
Last month, hours after President Barack Obama threatened to veto any Iran sanctions bill during his State of the Union address, US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress on March 3.
The Israeli premier is expected to argue that the nuclear accord taking shape now would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, posing an existential threat to Israel.
Netanyahu is also scheduled to speak before the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobbying group.
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry have boycotted the next week’s conference.
However, US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice will speak at the annual event.
The US president and some members of Congress have pushed back against the timing of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, saying it appears to be an attempt to scuttle a possible comprehensive agreement with Tehran.
Israel has repeatedly accused Iran of having a desire to obtain nuclear weapons and using the talks to buy time.
Iran rejects the allegation, arguing that as a committed signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu said the US was “accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons.”
“I respect the White House and the president of the United States but on such a fateful matter, that can determine whether or not we survive, I must do everything to prevent such a great danger for Israel,” he said in a speech in Israel.
Secretary Kerry amplified the White House’s criticism of Netanyahu during congressional testimony Wednesday, saying the Israeli prime minster would object to any deal with Iran.
Kerry suggested that Netanyahu was wrong in his judgment on Iran just like he was wrong in his support for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
“He may have a judgment that just may not be correct here,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Meanwhile, a group of US senators introduced a bill Friday that would allow a congressional review of any deal with Iran over its nuclear energy program.
The legislation would require President Obama to submit the text of any deal to Congress and would ban the White House from lifting any sanctions for a period of 60 days so that Congress could hold hearings on the deal.
The measure dubbed the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015” was introduced by Senators Bob Corker, Robert Menendez, Lindsey Graham and Tim Kaine.