Obama: ‘less concerned’ with Bibi speech than Congress undermining Iran talks

U.S. President Barack Obama. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

(JNS.org) Hours before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned speech in the U.S. Congress, President Barack Obama said in an interview that such a deal would be reached if Iran can agree to freeze its sensitive nuclear activity for at least a decade in a verifiable way.

“If, in fact, Iran is willing to agree to double-digit years of keeping their program where it is right now and, in fact, rolling back elements of it that currently exist... if we’ve got that, and we’ve got a way of verifying that, there’s no other steps we can take that would give us such assurance that they don’t have a nuclear weapon," Obama told Reuters.

Obama said that Netanyahu's Congress speech on Tuesday, in which the prime minister is expected to criticize the White House's insistence on a diplomatic deal with Iran, would not be "permanently destructive" to U.S.-Israel ties. But Obama reiterated said that there is a "substantial disagreement" between the U.S. and Israel on the nuclear issue.

"I'm less concerned, frankly, with Prime Minster Netanyahu’s commentary than I am with Congress taking actions that might undermine the [nuclear] talks before they’re completed," said Obama, who has vowed to veto a bill imposing new sanctions against Iran if such legislation passes in Congress.

If a deal with Iran is reached, "it would be far more effective in controlling their nuclear program than any military action we could take, any military action Israel could take and far more effective than sanctions will be," Obama said.

A day before his Congress speech, Netanyahu spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. The purpose of the Tuesday speech, the prime minister said Monday, is “to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel.” Pointing to a map on a screen behind him, Netanyahu described how Iran is “training, arming, dispatching terrorists on five continents.”

Member of Knesset Erel Margalit (Labor) told JNS.org at the AIPAC conference that he was unhappy about the heavy public focus on Netanyahu’s Congress speech, and that such matters should instead be discussed in privacy.

"As the small country (Israel) dealing with the larger country (the U.S.), I think we have more of the responsibility to maintain the trusted nature of the relationship between the executive offices," he said.

Posted on March 3, 2015 .