March 4, 2015 / 10:46 AM / 4 years ago

Rejecting criticism, Netanyahu says Iran deal 'deeply flawed'

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Pushing back against President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he had presented a practical alternative in Washington to a “deeply flawed” nuclear accord being negotiated with Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Returning to Israel after addressing the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, Netanyahu voiced satisfaction with the speech that Obama said had offered “no viable alternatives” to an international deal being worked out with Tehran.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry added his own criticism on Wednesday after three days of talks in Switzerland with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Jawad Zarif, saying that “simply demanding that Iran capitulate is not a plan”.

“The deal currently on the table is deeply flawed,” Netanyahu said upon landing in response to the criticism.

“Instead of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, this impending deal will facilitate that development. The alternative to that bad deal is not war but a much better deal.”

Netanyahu also said he thought that Congress may play a decisive role in any agreement reached.

In a written statement earlier, Netanyahu said he had “proposed a practical alternative at my speech in Congress, one that on the one hand prolongs by years the time it would take Iran to break out to a nuclear weapon, if it decides to breach the agreement, by imposing tougher sanctions.”

“(It) also proposes not to automatically lift sanctions on Iran, until it stops spreading terrorism in the world, its aggression against its neighbors and its threats to annihilate Israel,” the written statement also said.

CRITICISM FROM U.S. AND ISRAEL

Kerry and Zarif, who negotiated in Montreux with their counterparts from Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, hope to work out a framework nuclear deal by late March.

Netanyahu came under strong criticism from the U.S. administration and inside Israel for his Congress speech, which Washington said had injected destructive partisanship into U.S.-Israeli ties.

Republicans, who control Congress, had invited Netanyahu to speak without consulting Obama or other leading Democrats.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the speech “an insult to the intelligence of the United States” and said she was so “saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran” that she was near tears.

As many as 60 of the 232 Democratic members of Congress boycotted the address.

In Israel, critics said the speech harmed Israel’s strategic alliance with Washington and was aimed at wooing voters for Netanyahu in a closely contested general election on March 17.

“Israel is a strong country, an ally of the United States, or at least it was until Netanyahu decided to ruin that for his political needs,” Tzipi Livni, who heads the centrist Zionist Union party running against Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, told Israel Radio. “We need to fix the relationship,” she said.

Israel has the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal and has threatened to attack Iran if it is not satisfied over plans for Tehran’s nuclear program.

Writing by Maayan Lubell and Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Tom Heneghan

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