By STUART WINER, TIMES OF ISRAEL—
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Sunday he would continue to try to defeat an expected agreement between the US and Iran over the latter’s nuclear development program as Washington predicted a handshake on the matter in the coming weeks.
“The powers and Iran are racing forward with an agreement that will allow Iran to arm with nuclear weapons, something that will threaten the existence of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said before the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu declared that he was ready to go head to head with US Secretary of State John Kerry in order to stop the deal.
“At the end of the week, Kerry and Zarif announced their intention to complete the framework agreement by the end of March, and that is what gives rise to the urgency in our efforts to try and halt this bad and dangerous agreement,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to act and to lead the international efforts against the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons and we will act in every way to foil the bad and dangerous agreement that would cast a heavy cloud over the future of Israel.”
The comments came after Kerry stressed to his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, that the US aimed to meet a late March deadline for a deal reining in Iran’s nuclear program when the two men met on Friday in Munich.
On Sunday, Zarif said, after meeting with Kerry for a second time, that progress had been made toward a deal and that neither side wanted an extension.
Netanyahu is set to speak before US Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat in early March, as Congress debates a bill that would increase sanctions on Tehran.
The timing, arrangements and likely content of the speech have infuriated the Obama administration, and Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure to scrap the speech, both at home and in the US.
In the latest blow, Vice President Joseph Biden’s office announced Friday that he would not attend, claiming he was scheduled to travel abroad at that time. President Barack Obama and Kerry said shortly after the speech was announced on January 20 that they would not meet with Netanyahu during his visit, citing the proximity to Israeli elections set for March 17.
A Channel 10 news report Saturday indicated that some 60 Democratic legislators were expected to stay away from the address.
Netanyahu remains determined to go ahead with the address to highlight the dangers of a deal that would leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state, but is making an effort “to soften” the Obama administration’s anger and that of many Democrats by stressing that he believed the invitation to address Congress by House Speaker John Boehner was truly bipartisan, according to Channel 10 news.
Global powers have been struggling for more than a year to pin down a comprehensive deal to rein in Iran’s suspect nuclear program, after an interim accord was struck in November 2013.
After missing two previous deadlines, the group known as the P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States — set a March 31 deadline for a political agreement.
So far, Iran has frozen some of its nuclear enrichment program in return for limited sanctions relief.
Kerry and Zarif have met many times over the past months, mostly in European capitals, as they have sought to hammer out a deal. Their political teams have also been negotiating behind the scenes.
Both diplomats were in Germany to take part in the annual Munich Security Conference, which this year is focusing on the “collapse of the global order,” and which Biden is also attending.