JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on Thursday most Americans agreed with Israel over dangers posed by Iran, even as he lost a battle to persuade the U.S. Congress to reject Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers including Washington.
In remarks at a Jewish New Year’s reception at the Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu made no direct mention of President Barack Obama’s victory on Wednesday in securing enough Senate votes to protect the July 14 agreement in Congress.
But Netanyahu, who angered the Democratic White House by addressing Congress in March at the invitation of the Republican leaders as part of his campaign against the deal, seemed to suggest his efforts were not futile.
Speaking of a need to preserve Israel’s traditionally close ties with Washington despite what he called “differences of opinion”, Netanyahu told the diplomatic staffers: “I must say, however, that the overwhelming majority of the American public sees eye-to-eye with us on the danger emanating from Iran.”
He cited no evidence for his remark. A Reuters-Ipsos poll taken in the United States found that as of Sept. 1, 30 percent were in favor of the agreement, 30.7 percent against with 39.4 saying they did not know.
But support and opposition is highly partisan. About 60 percent of Republicans oppose the deal. That number drops to 19 percent for all non-Republicans, including Democrats and independents. The poll had a credibility interval of 2.6 percent.
Israel’s message to ordinary Americans, Netanyahu said, would continue to be that “Iran is the enemy of the United States - it declares that openly - and Israel is a U.S. ally”.
Ensuring the U.S. public understands that point will have “important ramifications for our security down the line”, Netanyahu said, according to an official statement.
In an interview last Friday with the Forward, a U.S. Jewish newspaper and news website, Obama held out the prospect of enhanced military and intelligence cooperation with Israel once the deal with Iran is implemented.
“There are always going to be arguments within families and among friends. And Israel isn’t just an ally, it’s not just a friend - it’s family,” Obama said.
Netanyahu and other opponents of the pact say it gives Iran too much sanctions relief in exchange for an insufficient regime for inspecting Iran’s nuclear facilities. They worry Tehran will use a $50 billion “windfall” to finance Islamist militant groups that might threaten U.S. allies, including Israel.
Last month Obama touted the deal as “the strongest non-proliferation agreement ever negotiated” and said that if Congress scuttled it, Tehran’s pathway to an atomic bomb would be accelerated and America’s international credibility severely damaged.
Some U.S.-based pro-Israel groups have spent millions of dollars on campaigns urging Congress to reject it.
But on Wednesday, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski said she would support the deal, bringing the list of backers in the Senate to 34 - enough to sustain Obama’s promised veto if the Republican-controlled Congress passes a disapproval resolution.
Netanyahu’s critics have said his decision to address Congress at the Republicans’ behest only alienated potential Democratic opponents of the accord and ultimately foiled his efforts to sink the agreement.
Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich