The decades-long relationship between the United States and Israel has been strained with tensions brought about by long-winded talks on Iran’s nuclear program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks the United States and the world powers are laying down arms in thwarting Iran from furthering its development of nuclear weapons. The U.S. thinks Mr Netanyahu’s assessment of the situation is incorrect, with the Secretary of State questioning the prime minister’s judgment of the agreement.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently voted against new sanctions imposed against Iran. The president had convinced the Congress to wait at least a month until the result of the negotiations, adding he will tighten economic sanctions if negotiations fail.
War of Words
Republicans, through House Speaker John Boehner, invited Netanyahu to give a speech at the U.S. Congress next week. The prime minister agreed. The Democrats were displeased.
On Tuesday, national security adviser Susan Rice criticized Netanyahu’s decision to appear in Congress. She said that by sidestepping the White House and agreeing to give the speech, the prime minister “injected a degree of partisanship which is not only unfortunate” but also “destructive of the fabric of the relationship.” Rice was speaking at PBS’ Charlie Rose.
Netanyahu responded with an equally loaded speech in Jerusalem. He said the U.S. and the 5+1 world powers are now agreeable to the possibility that “Iran will gradually, within a few years, will develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons.”
“I respect the White House and the president of the United States but on such a fateful matter, that can determine whether or not we survive, I must do everything to prevent such a great danger for Israel,” the prime minister said.
Kerry said Netanyahu “may have a judgment that just may not be correct here.”
“I’ll tell you, Israel is safer today with the added time we have given and the stoppage of the advances of the Iranian nuclear program than before. We got that agreement – which, by the way, the prime minister opposed. He was wrong. And today he’s saying we should be extending that interim agreement,” Kerry told the House of Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Netanyahu is very much opposed to the possible agreement that may be reached by the end of March. U.S. and the 5+1 powers are negotiating an agreement that will allow Iran to keep some of its nuclear energy at the same time prevent will prevent Tehran from getting hold of nuclear weapons. Iran had consistently denied that they are developing nuclear weapons.
Mr Obama said he will not meet with Mr Netanyahu as he did not arrange his visit through the White House, The Washington Post reported, further saying Vice President Joe Biden had made plans to travel abroad.
On Wednesday, Senator Timothy Kaine said he will not attend Netanyahu’s speech in congress, saying the timing was “highly inappropriate.” Senators Patrick Leahy, Bernard Sanders, Brian Schatz had previously said they will not be attending the speech.
Netanyahu declined when he was also invited by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin to give a speech for the Democrats, because agreeing to a separate event with Democrats “could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” as Mr Netanyahu has written in a letter seen in The Washington Post.
The Political Football
Netanyahu went ahead of his planned visit to Washington, believing Congress is the most appropriate leverage to convince U.S. to tighten its policy on Iran, The WSJ reported.
The US-Israel relation is now at a very tense moment, Dore Gold told WSJ. Gold, former adviser to the prime minister on international affairs, added Netanyahu is acting the way he did due to how he sees the Iranian issue as “not some agreement about a settlement.” Mr Netanyahu sees the issue as a “life-or-death question for Israel.”
The WSJ further reported that Michael Oren, former ambassador to the U.S. under Netanyahu’s administration, described the situation as a “political football.” He said the tensions will not just affect Israel’s upcoming election, it can also affect the U.S. presidential campaign in 2016.
“It just keeps getting worse and worse every day, it’s spinning out of control. This has a nasty edge to it – a seriously nasty edge. And it’s deeply personal now,” Oren said.