In his sharpest criticism yet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said world powers “have given up” on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in ongoing negotiations.
Netanyahu made the comments Wednesday night at a meeting of his Likud Party outside of Jerusalem. They come as the prime minister plans to address the US Congress next week on the nuclear negotiations.
In his remarks, Netanyahu said that the greatest challenge Israel faces is “the threat of Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons with a declared goal of annihilating us.”
“From the agreement that is forming, it appears that they (world powers) have given up on that commitment (to thwart Iran) and are accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “They might accept this but I am not willing to accept this.”
The West fears Iran may be attempting to build an atomic bomb with its nuclear program. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.
Netanyahu’s upcoming speech before Congress, which is openly opposed by the White House, some Democratic legislators and many within the US Jewish community, angered the Obama administration and US lawmakers, who charged that the invitation to address Congress disregarded diplomatic protocol and was an attempt by the prime minister to derail the US-brokered nuclear negotiations with Iran, Obama’s signature foreign policy objective.
Netanyahu said he respects President Barack Obama but stressed he has no choice but to travel to America to lobby against a nuclear deal with Iran.
“I respect the White House and the US president but on a serious subject, it’s my duty to do everything for Israel’s security,” Netanyahu said during a campaign rally at a West Bank settlement.
“Under the agreement that is being prepared, we have reason to worry… if the world powers have reached an agreement with Iran,” he added.
Netanyahu’s speech is controversial because it puts Israel on a collision course with the Obama administration as it negotiates with Iran over its nuclear program — talks that in their current form could lead to a deal that potentially poses an existential risk to Israel, Netanyahu has warned. Thus, he intends to argue before Congress on March 3 that the international community should increase its pressure on Iran, rather than ease sanctions against it under the reported terms of the emerging nuclear deal.
The speech is also set just two weeks before the prime minister faces elections back home, a fact that critics in Israel and the US have seized on to accuse Netanyahu of using the address to drum up support for his Likud party.
Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — known as the P5+1 — have been seeking a comprehensive accord that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb, in return for an easing of sanctions.
The cut-off point for the technical details of such an accord is June 30.
AFP contributed to this report