Netanyahu puts US-Israel ties under strain
WASHINGTON - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ramps up his mission to foil an emerging White House-backed nuclear deal with Iran with a speech on Monday to the powerful pro-Israel AIPAC lobby.
Netanyahu has infuriated the White House and Democratic lawmakers by accepting an invitation by President Barack Obama's Republican foes to speak on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
Also addressing the 16,000 AIPAC delegates are Washington's United Nations envoy Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who last week slammed Netanyahu's move to speak before a joint session of the US Congress without the blessing of the administration.
A member of Netanyahu's entourage told journalists travelling with him on Sunday that there was no intention to offend Obama.
"We are trying to explain to the Americans what is causing us concern," he said on condition of anonymity.
"We know a great deal about the emerging agreement... In our view, it is a bad agreement."
The official would not indicate the source of the "excellent information" Israelis have about the deal between the Islamic republic and the so-called P5+1 group that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
But he said Netanyahu would elaborate in his congressional address.
In return for Tehran's agreement, the West would ease punishing sanctions imposed over its nuclear program, which Iran insists is purely civilian.
Israel worries that Iran and world powers will likely clinch a deal that eases sanctions without applying sufficiently stringent safeguards.
- Deal deadline 'not sacred' -
Netanyahu's trip comes just four weeks before a March 31 target for a framework deal with Iran. Negotiators intend to pin down the technical details of a comprehensive agreement by June 30.
The Israeli official suggested that if a satisfactory agreement cannot be achieved within that timeframe, talks should be extended.
"The date is not sacred," he said.
In past visits to AIPAC's annual conference, Netanyahu has warned in chilling terms of the threat to Israel, the Middle East and the world at large that a nuclear-armed Islamic republic would pose, comparing it to the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews.
Educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, before joining the prestigious Boston Consulting Group, Netanyahu revels in his knowledge of American idioms when addressing US audiences.
In a widely-quoted 2012 speech he said that Iran's construction of underground nuclear facilities and development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) belies its assertion that its nuclear program serves only peaceful purposes.
"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is it?" he asked the conference then.
"It's a duck. But this duck is a nuclear duck. And it's time the world started calling a duck a duck."
Last year, he played on a Budweiser beer advert to warn of danger from Iranian Scud missiles.
"You remember that beer commercial, 'This Bud's for you?' Well, when you see Iran building ICBMs, just remember, America, that Scud's for you."
Obama has refused to meet Netanyahu during his visit, and Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry will both be abroad.