Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday downplayed the diplomatic spat with the United States around his upcoming address to Congress, terming it a “procedural issue” that can be resolved — unlike a “bad” deal with Tehran, which cannot be so easily mended.
The remarks came shortly after The New York Times reported that Netanyahu had reached out by phone to leading Democrats in an effort to quell the tensions around his scheduled address on Iran, in which he is likely to campaign against the White House’s stance in the nuclear negotiations.
“We can resolve procedural issues with regard to my appearance in the US, but if Iran arms itself with nuclear weapons, it will be a lot harder to fix,” Netanyahu said.
In a visit to wounded Israeli soldiers hurt in a Hezbollah strike on Wednesday, the prime minister cautioned against a deal between Western powers and Iran on its nuclear deal, and said that Israel was under an “ongoing attack” by the Islamic Republic.
Iran is “opening new fronts against us, using terrorism in the Middle East and in the entire world,” he continued.
“We are under an ongoing attack organized by Iran,” added Netanyahu, in reference to the Hezbollah strike that killed two Israel Defense Forces soldiers. “Iran is trying to uproot us from here. They won’t be successful.”
He warned that “this same Iran” was now being indulged by world negotiators who, he said, are intending to “leave it with the capabilities to build nuclear weapons.”
Netanyahu accepted an invitation to speak to Congress from Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), an invitation that was not coordinated with the White House, and which White House officials called a troubling breach of diplomatic protocol.
Boehner himself framed the speech as a response to President Obama’s promise to veto legislation imposing stiffer sanctions on Iran that Republicans and some Democrats have drafted and which the White House vehemently opposes. Netanyahu initially insisted the invitation was bipartisan, as the formal invite from Boehner claimed, but Democratic leaders such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) denied they had been consulted before the invitation was issued.
The New York Times reported on Friday that Netanyahu had reached out to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, Pelosi, and Senator Charles Schumer of New York in an effort to explain his position.
Reid told The New York Times that he had told the Israeli prime minister the visit is “hurting you.” He said Netanyahu’s conduct had prompted several Democratic senators to withdraw their support for sanctions against Iran.
“I said: ‘You have to understand this. I’m not telling you what to do or what not to do, but you have to understand the background here from my perspective,’” he said. Reid said he wouldn’t tell Netanyahu to cancel the address, but told him that Boener’s invitation was “not the right thing to do.”
Similarly, Pelosi said she told Netanyahu the Congress address “could send the wrong message in terms of giving diplomacy a chance.”
On Wednesday, a senior Obama administration official charged that Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, has been working to advance the political fortunes of Netanyahu at the expense of the US-Israel relationship, according to The New York Times. The accusation marked a striking escalation in the rhetorical spat between the White House and the Netanyahu government over the prime minister’s planned speech to Congress in early March.
The “unusually sharp criticism” by the senior official, who was not named in the report, reflected “the outrage the episode has incited within President Obama’s inner circle,” the Times suggested. “Such officially authorized criticisms of diplomats from major allies are unusual.”