March 2, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “regret” Monday that his address to a joint session of Congress has become politicized, but pledged to continue to criticize the emerging Iran nuclear agreement.

Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, Netanyahu was greeted by the friendly audience with multiple standing ovations, saying he appreciates all that President Obama has done in support of his country.

“My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office which he holds,” he said. Republicans invited Netanyahu to address Congress Tuesday without first consulting the White House in a breach of diplomatic protocol. The White House responded by refusing to meet with the Israeli leader, citing proximity to this month’s Israeli elections.

Netanyahu appeared to acknowledge that his address has become a distraction from the very talks he aims to criticize.

“You know, never has so much been written about a speech that hasn’t been given,” he quipped. Even attendance at the Tuesday speech has become controversial, with a number of Democratic lawmakers pledging to boycott.

“The last thing that I would want is for Israel to become a partisan issue, and I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here this week as doing that,” Netanyahu said.

But the Prime Minister said he would proceed with his plan to aggressively criticize the P5+1 Iran nuclear talks, which are inching closer to an agreement and he warns could “threaten the survival of Israel.”

“I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there’s still time to avert them,” Netanyahu said, alluding to the Jewish people’s millennia in diaspora. “Today we are no longer silent. Today we have a voice. And tomorrow, as Prime Minister of the one and only Jewish state, I plan to use that voice.”

“Israel and the U.S. agree that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but we disagree on the best way to prevent Iran for developing those weapons,” he added.

Before Netanyahu took the stage, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power defended the Obama Administration’s support for Israel and criticized the politicization of the alliance. Later Monday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice is set to address the pro-Israel group to deliver in-depth remarks about the Iran talks in advance of Netanyahu’s criticism.

“Debating the most effective policy both within our respective democracies and among partners is more than useful, it is a necessary part of arriving at informed decisions,” Power said, attempting to separate out the politics from the substance. “Politicizing that process is not. The stakes are too high for that.”

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