Obama: In Congress, Netanyahu Didn't Offer Viable Alternatives to Iran Deal

Pelosi: Saddened by insult to intelligence of U.S.; Israel's opposition leader Herzog: While Netanyahu knows how to deliver a speech, he didn't halt a nuclear agreement.

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U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House, March 3, 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House, March 3, 2015.Credit: Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday told reporters "as far as I can tell, there was nothing new" in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress panning U.S.-led nuclear talks with Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol, March 3, 2015.Credit: AFP

"The prime minister didn't offer any viable alternatives," Obama said, urging Congress to wait to evaluate a nuclear deal with Iran until an agreement is finalized. Obama said that he would only agree to a deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

In an earlier reaction to Netanyahu's speech, Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent, reported via Tweeter that a senior Obama administration official said of the address: "Literally, not one new idea; not one single concrete alternative; all rhetoric, no action."

Reuters quoted a senior Obama administration official as saying: "Simply demanding that Iran completely capitulate is not a plan, nor would any country support us in that position. The prime minister offered no concrete action plan."

Democratic House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement in which she said she was "saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States" as one of the countries negotiating an nuclear agreement with Iran, by the prime minister's speech "and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation." She added: "We have all said that a bad deal is worse than no deal, and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is the bedrock of our foreign policy and national security."

Democratic Congressman John Lewis of Georgia took to Twitter to respond to criticism that he was the only legislator from Georgia staying away from Netanyahu's address with the retort: "I don't take a backseat to anyone in my commitment and support of Israel" and adding: "The Floor of the House shouldn't be used as a tool to re-elect a foreign leader," a reference to Israel's March 17 election.

In Israel, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor - Zionist Union), who is seeking to unseat Netanyahu in the March 17 Knesset elections, addressed an audience in the Negev immediately after the speech on Tuesday evening, telling them that their problems worry him no less than the Iranian nuclear threat. "Netanyahu knows how to deliver a speech," he said, "but [his] speech did not put a halt to a nuclear agreement and didn't influence it." Herzog added: "No Israeli leader will countenance a nuclear Iran."

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of the right-leaning Habayit Hayehudi party was, however, among those praising Netanyahu's remarks. "The Israeli people stand behind you," he wrote on his Facebook page.

Richard Haass, the president at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted that the Obama administration should be "relatively pleased" with the prime minister's speech in that the "only fundamental disagreement" was whether an agreement with Iran should be limited in its duration.

Obama administration ought to be relatively pleased w #Netanyahu speech; only fundamental disagreement over whether #Iran pact time-limited

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is considered a possible Republican candidate for president, issued a statement on Twitter calling Netanyahu's speech "powerful" and vowing that Iran's nuclear program must be stopped.

Powerful message from @netanyahu. Glad he addressed Congress & detailed the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Their nuclear program must be stopped

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League issued a statement calling Netanyahu's address "passionate and determined" and adding: "We hope the speech and continued bilateral conversations and consultations will help bolster efforts to ensure that any deal reached fundamentally eliminates the danger posed by Iran to the region and to international security."

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, the left-leaning pro-Israel lobby, commented: "The Israeli prime minister has insisted that despite the inappropriate timing of his address, the American people needed to hear what he has to say. But this speech was nothing new. The Obama administration agrees that a nuclear Iran would be unacceptable. The difference is that it is pursuing serious diplomacy to prevent that outcome, and Netanyahu has refused to offer credible solutions."

This is a ridiculous claim. #BibiSpeech pic.twitter.com/nGfTzJ9nrF

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