Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boarded a plane for Washington Sunday morning, telling reporters on the tarmac that he would deliver a speech to the US Congress — even though it has proved contentious on both sides of the Atlantic — out of a “deep and genuine concern” for Israel’s security.
During Netanyahu’s controversial 48-hour visit he will address a joint session of Congress in a bid to garner last-minute support for a halt to an emerging deal with Iran over its nuclear program. The move has infuriated the White House and some Democratic lawmakers.
The invitation to Netanyahu was extended by House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, who did not consult with the administration in advance.
Israel believes Iran and world powers are likely to reach a deal that eases international sanctions on Tehran without applying sufficiently stringent safeguards to stop it developing nuclear weapons.
“I’m going to Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission,” Netanyahu told reporters shortly before his plane took off. He said he would “do everything” to protect Israel.
Netanyahu will also address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday before heading to Capitol Hill the following day, after which he will fly home.
Netanyahu’s trip comes just four weeks before a March 31 deadline for a political framework on the nuclear issue, with negotiators intending to pin down the final technical details by June 30.
It also comes two weeks before a March 17 general election in Israel where Netanyahu is hoping to be re-elected for a third consecutive term in office. Critics have accused him of seeking to sway voters with a show of determination against Obama.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.