Amid row over DC invite, PM says he’ll ‘go anywhere’ to speak against Iran

Ratcheting up dispute with White House, Likud MKs ‘told to emphasize’ that Senate supermajority could overrule Obama veto on new Iran sanctions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 25, 2015. (Photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 25, 2015. (Photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Rebuffing growing criticism from the White House, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Sunday he would go ahead with his plan to speak before the US Congress in Washington about Iranian sanctions.

Netanyahu told his cabinet he would go anywhere to push Israel’s position that sanctions against Tehran should be toughened to stymie its nuclear program.

“As prime minister of Israel, I am obligated to make every effort in order to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons that would be aimed at the State of Israel. This effort is worldwide and I will go anywhere I am invited in order to enunciate the State of Israel’s position and in order to defend its future and its existence,” Netanyahu said Sunday.

Netanyahu has come under fire for accepting an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to speak about Iran and radical Islam, in what has been seen as a snub of US President Barack Obama.

Administration officials have expressed anger over the visit, saying it is a politically motivated breach of protocol, coming just before Israeli elections scheduled for March 17.

The speech comes amid a battle in Congress over a bill that would ramp up sanctions on Iran. Officials in the US, Iran and elsewhere have said that raising penalties on Tehran could derail sensitive talks over its nuclear program, and Obama has vowed to veto the measure.

According to an Israeli radio report Sunday, members of Netanyahu’s Likud party were briefed to emphasize in media interviews that a supermajority vote of 67 Senate representatives have the power to overrule the US presidential veto — hinting at Netanyahu’s intentions to back Congress against Obama.

“In the coming weeks, the superpowers will reach a framework agreement with Iran — an agreement that would allow Iran to keep its capabilities as a nuclear threshold state — which primarily endangers the existence of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting Sunday.

“Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons,” he said.

Netanyahu’s visit to Washington in March was not coordinated with the White House or State Department, in a sign of the nadir in ties between the Israeli and US administrations.

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said that they will not meet with Netanyahu when he visits Washington next month.

Netanyahu is staunchly opposed to any deal that will see the United States slacken sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear weapons program, and has called previous agreements “historic mistakes.”

The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Thursday that Netanyahu would address Congress in early March. He was initially slated to speak on February 11, but changed the date to March 3 so he could attend the AIPAC conference.

Israel and the United States are close allies, but personal relations between Obama and Netanyahu have reportedly deteriorated over the years.

The pair have publicly clashed over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and about how to tackle Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Obama’s allies fear Netanyahu’s March trip could be used by Israel and by Republicans to rally opposition to a nuclear deal, undercutting years of sensitive negotiations just as they appear poised to bear fruit.

In November the already faltering ties between the leaders were served a new blow when an anonymous US official was quoted calling Netanyahu a “chickenshit” in an article published by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in the American magazine The Atlantic. The article portrayed the rift between the United States and Israel as a “full-blown crisis.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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