Rhetoric eases ahead of Netanyahu's speech to Congress

Secretary of State Kerry says speech should not be a "political football" as Israel PM arrives in US to talk about Iran.

    • Netanyahu to address US Congress on Tuesday
    • Kerry met with Netanyahu on Sunday in bid to defuse tensions
    • Policy differences over the negotiations with Iran remain
    • Kerry reiterates US' determination to pursue negotiations with Iran

    The United States and Israel have shown signs of seeking to defuse tensions ahead of a speech by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, where he will warn against a possible nuclear deal with Iran.

    Policy differences over the negotiations with Iran remained firm, however, as Netanyahu arrived in the US on Sunday afternoon for a speech to Congress, which has imperiled ties between the two allies.

    Israel fears that US President Barack Obama's Iran diplomacy, with an end-of-March deadline for a framework accord, will allow its arch foe to develop atomic weapons, something Tehran denies seeking.

    By accepting an invitation from the Republican Party to address Congress on Tuesday, the Israeli leader infuriated the Obama administration, which said it was not told of the speech before plans were made public in an apparent breach of protocol.

    A senior Israeli official told reporters on Netanyahu's flight that Congress could be "the last brake" for stopping a nuclear deal with Iran.

    Netanyahu's visit to the US will start in earnest on Monday with his speech to the powerful pro-Israel AIPAC lobby.

    Also addressing the 16,000 AIPAC delegates are Washington's United Nations envoy Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who last week slammed Netanyahu's move to speak before a joint session of Congress without the blessing of the administration.

    'No offence intended'

    A member of Netanyahu's entourage told journalists travelling with him on Sunday that there was no intention to offend Obama.

    "We are trying to explain to the Americans what is causing us concern," he said on condition of anonymity.

    We don't want to see this turned into some great political football.

    John Kerry, US Secretary of State

    "We know a great deal about the emerging agreement... In our view, it is a bad agreement."

    The official would not indicate the source of the "excellent information" Israelis have about the deal between the Islamic republic and the so-called P5+1 group that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.

    But he said Netanyahu would elaborate in his congressional address.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Washington's determination to pursue negotiations with Iran, saying on Sunday the United States deserved "the benefit of the doubt" to see if a nuclear deal could be reached.

    He said he talked to Netanyahu on Saturday, saying "We don't want to see this turned into some great political football."

    Israel and the United States agreed that the main goal was to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, he said.

    In remarks on Saturday at Jerusalem's Western Wall, Netanyahu said: "I would like to take this opportunity to say that I respect US President Barack Obama."

    He added that he believed in the strong bilateral ties and said, "that strength will prevail over differences of opinion, those in the past and those yet to come".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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