Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Tuesday that he has a “profound disagreement” with the United States and its negotiating partners in talks with Iran to curb the country’s nuclear program, and is keeping his plans to address a joint meeting of Congress next month.
“I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfill my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country,” Netanyahu said in a televised statement. “We have a profound disagreement with the United States administration and the rest of the P5+1 over the offer that was made to Iran. This offer will enable Iran to threaten Israel’s survival.”
Netanyahu appeared to be referencing the agreement in the works between the United States and the five other world powers negotiating with Iran. Iran must reach an initial framework agreement with the world powers by March 24.
Netanyahu pledged to address Congress before that deadline “because Congress might have a role with an important nuclear deal with Iran.”
If an agreement isn’t reached, a majority of U.S. senators are determined to impose additional sanctions against Iran and many are calling for Congress to have oversight over an eventual deal with Iran.
Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress, hatched behind the White House’s back with House Speaker John Boehner, has sparked controversy and was viewed by many as a snub.
Vice President Joe Biden’s office announced last week Biden will not be in Washington when Netanyahu is slated to address Congress on March 3. And President Barack Obama will not meet with Netanyahu because of the proximity of Netanyahu’s visit to Israeli elections.
A group of Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate are considering boycotting Netanyahu’s address, and several, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I–VT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), have already announced they won’t attend.
Netanyahu insisted Tuesday that “Isarel’s survival is not a partisan issue, not in Israel nor in the United States.”
“This doesn’t mean that from time to time Israeli governments have not had serious disagreements with American administrations over the best way to achieve the security of Israel,” Netanyahu said, before referencing diverging views between past Israeli prime ministers and U.S. administrations.
“None of these disagreements led to a rupture in the relationship between Israel and teh United States,” he said. “In fact, over time our relationship grew stronger.”
Netanyahu also sought to dispel suggestions that his address was also a personal snub to Obama, especially as relations between the two leaders have been reportedly strained.
He insisted the disagreement was not a “personal” one with Obama and insisted that he “deeply” appreciates Obama’s support for Israel.
“Equally, I know that the President appreciates my responsibility, my foremost responsibility, to protect and defend the security of Israel,” Netanyahu said.