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Netanyahu's Congress Speech Approaches, Tensions Between U.S.-Israel Increase

| by Jared Keever
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As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to address the U.S. Congress next week and the U.S. inches closer to a potential nuclear deal with Iran, it appears the rift between the U.S. and Israel is growing wider. 

The Associated Press reports comments from both Netanyahu and Secretary of State John Kerry have elevated tensions between the two countries. 

Of primary concern to Netanyahu is news of a possible breakthrough in nuclear talks with Tehran, which the prime minister says opens the door to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. 

“It appears that they have given up on that commitment and are accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, will develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said recently in Israel.

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“They might accept this but I am not willing to accept this,” he added in remarks translated from Hebrew. “I respect the White House, I respect the president of the United States, but in such a fateful matter that can determine if we exist or not, it is my duty to do everything to prevent this great danger to the state of Israel.”

Kerry disputes those claims.

Testifying before Congress recently, he said the 2013 interim agreement with Iran actually made Israel safer and froze key parts of the country’s nuclear program. 

The new deal in the works would reportedly further clamp down on Iran’s nuclear activities for another decade before slowly easing restrictions.

“He may have a judgment that just may not be correct here,” Kerry said while on Capitol Hill.

Another source of tension is Netanyahu’s address to Congress, scheduled for next week. That speech, which many Democrats and White House officials are calling politically motivated, was set up by an invitation from Republican House Speaker John Boehner. The speech comes shortly before Netanyahu faces re-election, which has led many to believe this speech is a way for him to gain favor in Israel. Obama has declined to speak with Netanyahu when he is in Washington, D.C., so as not to potentially influence the election.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in a recent interview that the invitation had “injected a degree of partisanship” into the Israeli-U.S. relations, according to Voice of America News

White House spokesman Josh Earnest echoed those comments Wednesday when he said the relationship between the two countries should not be paired down to a relationship between the Republican Party and Netanyahu’s Likud Party. 

Many Democratic members of Congress say they will not attend Netanyahu’s speech. 

Democratic Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Diane Feinstein of California, offered to meet with Netanyahu in a closed-door meeting, but the prime minister declined, saying such a meeting could further “compound the misperception of partisanship.”

“We offered the prime minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong,’" Durbin said in a written statement. “His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades.”

Sources: The Associated Press, Voice of America News 

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