Kerry accuses Netanyahu of cheerleading 2003 Iraq war

Top US diplomat questions prime minister’s judgement as rift over nuclear talks deepens

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)

Amid a barrage of criticism from Obama administration officials at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his upcoming speech before Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry attacked Netanyahu’s judgment by implying Wednesday that he publicly advocated for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The latest spat signals a further nosedive in relations between Netanyahu and the White House over a disagreement on how to tackle Iran’s nuclear program.

“The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in an apparent attempt to delegitimatize Netanyahu’s evaluation of the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program.

Netanyahu “may have a judgment that just may not be correct here,” Kerry said.

In 2002, as a private citizen, Netanyahu sounded the alarm on Iraqi WMDs during a talk to a Congressional committee.

Kerry, then a senator, voted in favor of the US invasion of Iraq on October 11, 2002.

Netanyahu was also “extremely outspoken” about the interim agreement with Iran, Kerry noted Wednesday, echoing a similar statement a day earlier, when he said the prime minister had ended up favoring the temporary agreement.

Still, Kerry also affirmed his commitment to Israel and said that he will not “prejudge” the prime minister’s controversial speech next week.

Kerry’s comments came less than day after US National Security Adviser Susan Rice blasted Netanyahu for damaging ties between the two close allies.

Rice faulted both Netanyahu and Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who extended the invitation to the prime minister, for creating the current “destructive” situation.

“What has happened over the last several weeks, by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu, two weeks in advance of his election, is that on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship which is not only unfortunate; it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” she said.

Netanyahu has said that he will speak before Congress to dissuade American lawmakers from approving an impending nuclear deal with Iran, a move that raised the ire of the White House, some US congressmen and his political opponents back home.

On Wednesday, he told Likud supporters that the world had “given up” on stopping Iran.

According to Netanyahu, his speech is is the final brake in preventing “a bad deal” that would see the Islamic Republic hold onto its nuclear capabilities — and perhaps produce nuclear weapons that may be used against the Jewish State.

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.

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky added her name Wednesday to the growing list of lawmakers who says they are skipping Netanyahu’s speech to Congress next week.

The nine-term Illinois congresswoman said the speech should be postponed until after the Israeli elections next month. She said House Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu without notifying President Barack Obama threatened Israel’s security and undermined Congress’s bipartisan support for Israel.

Schakowsky, who is Jewish, said she strongly supports Israel and believes that Iran should never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon, the expected topic of Netanyahu’s speech.

She is one of several lawmakers to forgo the speech.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine on Wednesday also announced he’d skip the session.

Stuart Winer and AP contributed to this report

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