(Corrects reference to Iran from Iraq in first paragraph
after ‘Regime Change’ subheadline in story published March 3.)
(Bloomberg) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
directly challenging President Barack Obama in a speech to U.S.
lawmakers, said an emerging agreement with Iran would backfire
and ensure the Islamic Republic gains a nuclear arsenal.
“That deal would not prevent Iran from developing nuclear
weapons — it would all but guarantee that Iran gets those
weapons, lots of them,” Netanyahu said Tuesday in Washington,
speaking to a joint meeting of the U.S. House and Senate in an
effort to head off an accord being negotiated between Iran and
world powers. “It paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
Within hours of Netanyahu’s speech, Obama shot back that
“as far as I can tell, there was nothing new” in the remarks.
“On the core issue, which is how to we prevent Iran from
obtaining a nuclear weapon, the prime minister didn’t offer any
viable alternatives,” the president told reporters at the White
Netanyahu accepted an invitation from Republican House
Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to address Congress without
consulting Obama’s administration, adding to tensions with an
ally that provides $3.1 billion a year in military aid to
Obama has said he isn’t inviting Netanyahu to the White
House because the visit is just two weeks before Israel’s March
“I deeply regret the fact that some perceive my being here
as political,” Netanyahu, 65, told lawmakers. “That was never
An Obama administration official said after the speech that
Netanyahu demanded that Iran simply capitulate. That isn’t a
plan and wouldn’t win support from other nations, said the
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of
The speech, which at least 40 Democratic lawmakers skipped
in protest, only heightened divisions in Congress over the
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, the
chamber’s top Democrat, called Netanyahu’s remarks an “insult
to the intelligence of the United States,” saying she was
“saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the
threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing
Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, praised the speech, which he said
“crystallized a lot of thinking.” He said Netanyahu helped
make the case for legislation that would require congressional
approval before sanctions on Iran are lifted.
Thousands of Centrifuges
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky
Republican, said the Senate will debate the bill sponsored by
Corker next week. The administration has said Obama would veto
it if it’s sent to his desk and lawmakers may not have enough
votes to override the president.
Netanyahu said an accord would leave Iran with a “vast
nuclear” program. He said thousands of centrifuges used to
enrich uranium “would be left spinning” and “thousands more
would be temporarily disconnected but not destroyed.”
“This is a bad deal,” Netanyahu said. “This is a very
bad deal. We’re better off without it.”
Instead, he said, a better deal can be obtained by
“keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime,
especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.”
Saying that Iran is “gobbling up” nations from Iraq to
Yemen, Netanyahu said the world powers should insist that Iran
“change its behavior” during the course of any nuclear
agreement, if not before a deal is signed.
The Obama administration official said Netanyahu
essentially is demanding regime change in Iran rather than a
negotiated deal. Unless the Iranian government were overthrown,
the official said, the options would be to accept a nuclear-capable Iran or take military action that would set back the
Iranian nuclear program for a much shorter time than a
Netanyahu’s political opponents in Israel called his speech
a blatant campaign gimmick in a race where the prime minister is
trailing and condemned him for scarring Israel’s ties with
“There’s no question that Prime Minister Netanyahu knows
how to give a good speech,” said Isaac Herzog, head of the
Zionist Union that narrowly leads Netanyahu’s Likud party in
“But let’s be frank, the speech that we heard today, as
impressive as it was, won’t stop a nuclear Iran, and it will not
influence a nuclear deal,” Herzog said in a speech broadcast in
Israel on Channel 2 television.
Netanyahu drew a standing ovation when he entered a House
chamber and dozens more during the speech as he denounced Iran.
“Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest
hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-semitism with the newest
technology,” he said. “He tweets that Israel must be
Among guests for the speech were Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust
survivor and Nobel peace prize winner; lawyer Alan Dershowitz;
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and billionaire Sheldon
Adelson, the casino magnate and backer of Republican candidates
and pro-Israel causes.
During Netanyahu’s address, U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry was meeting in one-on-one talks with Iran’s Foreign
Minister Javad Zarif on a nuclear deal in Montreux, Switzerland.
The talks, in their second day, came as Iranian leaders made
statements readying their nation for a resolution to the decade-long dispute.
Netanyahu in the past has threatened Israeli airstrikes to
thwart Iran, though it would take U.S. military capabilities to
do more than delay an Iranian effort to develop nuclear weapons.
The U.S. and its allies say Iran has been seeking the
capability to build nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic says
its program is purely for peaceful, civilian purposes.
Israel is widely thought to possess its own nuclear
arsenal, although it has never acknowledged that or signed the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Before arriving in the U.S. on March 1, Netanyahu set off
alarms when a senior official on his plane told reporters that
the prime minister would reveal details of the Iran agreement
that would demonstrate why Israel was spurning the deal. After
Kerry expressed concern that he would disclose U.S. secrets,
Netanyahu said in the speech that he didn’t need to.
“While the final deal has not yet been signed, certain
elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public
record,” Netanyahu said. “You don’t need intelligence agencies
and secret information to know this. You can Google it.”
To contact the reporter on this story:
Jonathan Ferziger in Washington at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
John Walcott at
Larry Liebert, Michael Shepard