Netanyahu to US: Still time to reach better nuclear deal with Iran
Prime minister bemoans the fact framework deal does not address Tehran's ICBMs program; 'This is a world issue because everyone is going to be threatened by the pre-eminent terrorist state of our time, keeping the infrastructure to produce not one nuclear bomb but many,' he says.
In a round of interviews to the American media on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the United States to seek a better deal to curb Iran's nuclear program and said he would press American lawmakers not give Tehran "a free path to the bomb."
"I think the alternatives are not either this bad deal or war," Netanyahu said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
"I think there's a third alternative - that is standing firm, ratcheting up the pressure until you get a better deal. And a better deal would roll back Iran's vast nuclear infrastructure, require Iran to stop its aggression in the region and its terror worldwide, and its calls and actions to annihilate the state of Israel," he said.
Netanyahu, in the first of several appearances on US Sunday news programs, said he has spoken with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress - nearly two thirds of House of Representatives members and a similar number in the US Senate - about the Iran nuclear issue.
The prime minister has been strongly critical of the framework agreement struck on Thursday between world powers and Iran, saying it does not do enough to protect Israel.
Furthermore, Netanyahu bemoaned the fact the deal doesn't address Iran's ICBMs program, it doesn't lead to the dismantling of Iran's centrifuges or shutting down of its nuclear facilities, its restrictions are limited in time, and that it "legitimizes" Tehran's nuclear program.
"They're given the ability not only to maintain their infrastructure but within a few years to increase it. They don't even have to violate this deal - they could just walk into many bombs," he said.
"This is not a partisan issue. This is not solely an Israeli issue," Netanyahu stressed.
"This is a world issue because everyone is going to be threatened by the pre-eminent terrorist state of our time, keeping the infrastructure to produce not one nuclear bomb but many, many nuclear bombs down the line."
Netanyahu angered the White House and alienated some Democrats when he accepted a Republican invitation to address Congress on March 3, two weeks before the Israeli elections that returned him to office.
Netanyahu denied he was coordinating with House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, who visited Israel last week, and with other Republicans to block the Iran deal.
The prime minister denounced the framework agreement between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, saying of Tehran, "They're getting a free path to the bomb."
"There's still time to get a better deal and apply pressure to Iran to roll back its nuclear program," he said on CNN.
"I'm not trying to kill any deal. I'm trying to kill a bad deal," Netanyahu said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
US President Barack Obama called the agreement reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, a "historic understanding" and told Netanyahu in a telephone call soon afterward that the deal represented progress toward a lasting solution that cuts off Iran's path to a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu said he had an hourlong conversation with the US president, with whom he has had strained relations.
Asked on CNN if he trusted Obama, Netanyahu said he was sure the US president was doing what he thought best for his country, but they disagreed on what the best Iran policy should be.
"It's not a question of personal trust," Netanyahu said.
The White House has grown used to Netanyahu's opposition. Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said on CNN, "I don't think we're going to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu."
Appearing on CNN, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a leading Democratic voice on foreign affairs, said she did not believe the agreement threatened Israel, and had harsh words for Netanyahu.
"I don't think it's helpful for Israel to come out and oppose this one opportunity to change a major dynamic which is downhill, a downhill dynamic in this part of the world," said Feinstein.
Feinstein said imposing more and stiffer economic sanctions would only drive Iran's nuclear program deeper underground and make it more difficult to monitor.
"I wish he would contain himself," Feinstein said of Netanyahu.
Other Republicans, meanwhile, have echoed Netanyahu's concerns. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday the proposed deal is a bad one - but it was the best one Obama could get because the Iranians don't fear or respect him. Graham said he favors waiting until a new president, Democratic or Republican, takes office in January 2017 and then trying again. In the meantime, economic and financial sanctions would stay in place.
"Is there a better deal to be had? I think so," Graham said on "Face The Nation."
Legislation in the works
Obama called the agreement reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, a "historic understanding" and told Netanyahu in a telephone call soon afterward that the deal represented progress toward a lasting solution that cuts off Iran's path to a nuclear weapon. Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.
Republicans, who control both chambers in Congress, and some Democrats are preparing legislation which would entail a vote in Congress on any Iran deal. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was waiting to learn more details about the framework agreement.
"I don't know how someone can ascertain whether this is something good or bad," he said on "Fox News Sunday," adding that Congress has a responsibility to scour the details of a final plan - including any classified annexes - ask the Obama administration hard questions and then vote on it.
"It's very important that Congress is in the middle of this, understanding, teasing out, asking those important questions," Corker said.
Obama has said he would veto legislation demanding an up-or-down vote in Congress on any final deal worked out with Iran by the deadline of the end of June that has been agreed by Iran and the six powers.
Corker sought to counter Obama's assertion that partisan politics in Washington could derail the landmark agreement to curb Iran's bomb-capable nuclear technology.
Congressional oversight "doesn't mean there won't be a deal," Corker said. "We just set in place a process to insure that if there's a deal, it's a deal that will stand the test of time, that will keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."
Corker said it was unclear whether opponents of the deal would be able to muster the votes needed to override such a veto.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to meet April 14 to consider Corker's legislation to ensure that Congress debates and signs off on any pact. The bill requires the president to transmit, within five days of reaching a final deal, the text of the full agreement along with materials related to its implementation.
With key elements still to be finalized, the framework agreement sealed by US-led world powers describes a program for stunting Iran's capacity to produce nuclear weapons while giving Tehran quick access to assets and markets now blocked by international sanctions.
In defending the framework and a potential final pact, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz cited what he called "unprecedented access and transparency" into Iran's nuclear activities that will allow the US and its partner negotiators to know almost instantly should Iran try to evade the oversight. This is a long-term arrangement, he stressed, with requirements lasting a quarter century or longer.
"We'll have eyes on the entire supply chain of uranium," Moniz said on CBS' "Face The Nation." ''Going back to mines, the mills, we'll have continuous surveillance of centrifuge production."