Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday denied reports of a rift between his country and its closest ally, the US, on Iran that he himself may have caused.
“Reports of its (alliance’s) early demise are not only premature but wrong,” said Netanyahu at the annual convention of AIPAC, America’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby.
He proceeded to address the issue of his upcoming speech to the US congress, on Tuesday, which has been at the heart of those reports of rifts and rupture in the alliance.
“It (speech to congress) is not intended to show disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office he holds,” he said, adding, “I have have great respect for both.”
And it’s not about injecting Israel into America’s partisan debate, he said, addressing allegations that he tried that. “The last thing I would want is for Israel to become a partisan issue.”
The purpose of the speech, he said, was to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel.
If the negotiations succeed, faced with a March-end deadline, Teheran’s march towards nuclear weapons would be halted in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
Israel, and many American critics of Obama administration’s initiative, will settle for nothing short of a deal that completely dismantles Iran nuclear infrastructure.
Many in President Obama’s own party agree.
Netanyahu, who shares a testy relationship with Obama, is being seen in the US and in Israel, as trying to exploit DC’s partisan politics to score a point against the president.
The joint address invitation was extended to him by Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, who, some believe, should have cleared the visit with the administration. He didn’t.
A miffed White House, which expected to be consulted on an international leader’s visit, has said Obama won’t meet Netanyahu, and nor would any of his senior officials.
Vice-president Joe Biden is abroad on a hurriedly organized tour, Secretary of State John Kerry will be out of the country also in pursuit of the deal with Iran.
Officially, the White House doesn’t want to receive Netanyahu saying the Israeli leader faces an election in a few days at home and the US can’t be seen as taking sides.
But the administration is clearly annoyed, and has done little to conceal it. In a TV interview, National Security Adviser Susan Rice called Netanyahu’s decision to speak “destructive”.
Kerry tried to dial down the temperature on Sunday saying Netanyahu is welcome to speak in the US, but even he couldn’t help a swipe calling the visit “odd, but not unique”.