US-Israel row deepens as Kerry questions Netanyahu

Israeli leader claims abandonment of pledge to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pauses while he speaks to supporters of his Likud party as he campaigns in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusale. Mr Netanyahu has rebuffed criticism in Washington of his plans to speak in Congress, accusing world powers of forsaking a pledge to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Photograph: Nir Elias/Reuters

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pauses while he speaks to supporters of his Likud party as he campaigns in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusale. Mr Netanyahu has rebuffed criticism in Washington of his plans to speak in Congress, accusing world powers of forsaking a pledge to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Photograph: Nir Elias/Reuters

 

The row between the White House and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has intensified with US officials saying his outspoken condemnation of efforts to secure an Iranian nuclear deal had injected destructive partisanship into US-Israeli relations.

In an escalation of hostile exchanges between the allies six days before Mr Netanyahu gives a speech to Congress on the threat from Iran, the Israeli leader accused world powers of abandoning a pledge to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, engaged in international talks with Tehran on its nuclear program, said Mr Netanyahu may be wrong. Mr Kerry told a congressional hearing: “He may have a judgment that just may not be correct here.”

Mr Kerry advised waiting to hear what Mr Netanyahu had to say in Tuesday’s speech. Republicans who control Congress invited Mr Netanyahu and agree with his opposition to an Iran deal.

But Mr Kerry said the Israeli leader “was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under (president) George W Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, echoing comments by president Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice, warned against allowing the US-Israeli relationship to be reduced to a party political issue, saying this would be destructive.

“The president has said the relationship between the US and Israel can’t just be reduced to a relationship between the Republican party and the Likud party,” he told reporters, referring to Mr Netanyahu’s party.

The Republicans did not consult Mr Obama or Democrats in Congress, as is customary before extending an invitation, and Mr Obama said he would not meet Mr Netanyahu because it would be so close to March 17th Israeli elections.

Mr Netanyahu said in a speech in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem that world powers had pledged to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons but appeared to have given up on this commitment.

He said the deal apparently coming together with Iran would allow the country that has in the past threatened to destroy Israel to develop the means to create fissile material to produce 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,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Last week the administration accused Israel of distorting the US position in the talks through selective leaks. Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

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