Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his campaign against the nuclear agreement with Iran to the American networks on Sunday, saying that he was "trying to kill a bad deal" and arguing that there was still time to "ratchet up the sanctions.”
The United States and five other world powers announced a preliminary deal with Iran last Thursday, which they said would curb Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and give international inspectors unfettered access to nuclear sites in exchange for a gradual easing of economic sanctions.
Sources in Washington believe that it is increasingly unlikely, if not impossible, to achieve a congressional majority for a bill that could scuttle the deal and also overcome a presidential veto. It’s also possible that such legislation will not even be ready before the talks with Tehran reach their final stages at the end of June. The sources said that Democratic legislators who in the past had expressed support for such legislation are now hesitating, given the overall positive response to the details of the agreement – in the media, among nuclear experts, but most especially among their liberal voters.
A clear hint that efforts to undermine the negotiations through legislation won’t succeed came from Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, one of the sharpest critics of U.S. President Barack Obama and the framework agreement with Iran. “I don’t mind giving the administration the time between now and June to put this deal together,” he said, “but I insist that Congress review the deal, debate and vote on it before it comes final.”
The battle between Netanyahu and Republican critics of the deal and Obama administration officials and their Democratic supporters was conducted on most of the Sunday morning interview programs, which were broadcast as usual even though both Passover and Easter fell this weekend.
In interviews with three U.S. talk shows – NBC's Meet the Press, ABC's This week and CNN's State of the Union – Netanyahu argued that the deal reached last week "is a dream deal for Iran and a nightmare deal for the world.”
"I'm not trying to kill any deal. I'm trying to kill a bad deal," Netanyahu told NBC, adding that the current plan "leaves the preeminent terrorist state of our time with a vast nuclear infrastructure."
But the network called out the prime minister on his contention that "not one centrifuge is destroyed" in the framework agreement.
"According to the parameters for the deal released by the U.S. State Department," NBC wrote on its website, "Iran has agreed to reduce installed centrifuges by two-thirds and place the excess in internationally monitored storage."
Sunni arms race
Netanyahu also argued that lifting some of the sanctions on Iran and leaving them with some nuclear capability could result in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
"It would spark an arms race among the Sunni states, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East," the prime minister warned. "And the Middle East crisscrossed with nuclear tripwires is a nightmare for the world. I think this deal is a dream deal for Iran and it's a nightmare deal for the world."
Asked whether it wouldn't be preferable for no Middle Easter country to have nuclear weapons, Netanyahu said: "In an ideal situation, you wouldn't have countries seeking to annihilate the state of Israel and openly saying that.
"I think the real problem in the Middle East is countries like Iran that pursue nuclear weapons with the explicit goal first of annihilating us, but also ultimately of conquering the Middle East and threatening [the U.S.]"
Questioned by ABC whether he thought President Obama and the other world leaders would sign an agreement if they thought the survival of Israel was at stake, Netanyahu said that Israel and the powers "have a legitimate difference of view."
He added that other countries in the region share his concerns, though they don't always say so publicly.
"If Iran is given this free path to the tomb, a deal that doesn't block Iran's path to nuclear weapons, but actually paves it, what will happen is that this will spark a nuclear arms race among the Sunni countries in the Middle East. And that would have -- a nuclear-armed Middle East, I think that's a global danger. I think it's very, very bad.
The prime minister declined to say whether Israel would consider unilateral air strikes against Iran. "We prefer a peaceful solution," he said. "I never talk about our military option or anyone else's. The United States says that it has a military option on the table."
Continuing - and intensifying - the sanctions on Iran would do the job," Netanyahu argued. "No less effective have been the crippling sanctions that have only been applied since 2012; crippling financial and economic sanctions, especially on the oil sector," he said.
"And with the drop in oil, those sanctions have become even more effective. That's what got Iran to the table in the first place."
"This is not a partisan issue. This is not solely an Israeli issue," Netanyahu said of the interim nuclear agreement, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" 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, many nuclear bombs down the line."
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.
Netanyahu angered the White House and alienated some of President Barack Obama's 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.
Israel, which is believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, says it believes Iran is committed to its destruction.
The Israeli leader 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.
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."
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 said it was unclear whether opponents of the deal would be able to muster the votes needed to override such a veto.
Netanyahu said he had had an hourlong conversation with Obama, with whom he has had strained relations.
Asked on CNN if he trusted Obama, Netanyahu said he was sure the American president was doing what he thought was good for his country, but they disagreed about the best policy on Iran.
"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."
Meanwhile, Obama’s Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a renowned nuclear scientist who played a key role at a critical point in the Lausanne talks and who was chosen to be the main promoter of the administration’s moves based on his professional and scientific background, said that he is sure the framework agreement has the power to block "all of these pathways to a bomb.”
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