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Live updates: Netanyahu addresses Congress

March 3, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresssed a joint meeting of Congress in a speech that became a flash-point for American politicians and a source of considerable tension on and around Capitol Hill. “This is a bad deal,” he said during his speech. “A very bad deal.” We’re bringing you live updates on the speech as well as the reaction.

  • Katie Zezima
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Speaking in the Oval Office, President Obama said Netanyahu didn’t “didn’t offer any viable alternatives” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Obama was on a teleconference call on Ukraine and other issues with other world leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, and did not watch the speech. “I did have a chance to take a look at the transcript, and as far as I can tell there was nothing new,” he said.

“The central question is how can we stop them from getting a nuclear weapon?” Obama said.

  • Katie Zezima
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A senior U.S. official said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech centered on regime change, not the issue of nuclear weapons.

“The logic of the Prime Minister’s speech is regime change, not a nuclear speech,” this person said.

Netanyahu forcefully laid out his reasoning why a deal with Iran is bad, including that the country’s “tentacles of terror” are wrapped around Israel and the world. A deal would “pave Iran’s path” to a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu said.

But the official asked of pursing a deal, “What’s the better alternative? Simply demanding that Iran completely capitulate is not a plan” and would not garner international support.

This person said the United States has been using, and continues to use, the pressure of sanctions to try to achieve a deal, and it does not trust the Iranian regime. The negotiations are insisting on transparency and “are not an opening to a rapprochement with Iran,” this person said, and the clear objective has been to prevent Iran from acquiring a weapon.

  • Mark Berman
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One person who was decidedly not a fan of the address: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who issued a blunt statement on Tuesday.

While she stressed that the United States and Israel share “unbreakable bonds,” she also said the following:

“That is why, as one who values the U.S. – Israel relationship, and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the Prime Minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”

She went on to point out that all sides agree “that a bad deal is worse than no deal,” and emphasized the importance of preventing Iran from becoming armed with a nuclear weapon. But this was a very high-profile indication of how Netanyahu’s speech did not win over all corners of the chamber on Tuesday.

  • Mark Berman
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forcefully argued against a nuclear deal with Iran, telling a joint meeting of Congress Tuesday that such an agreement would have the opposite effect of what the international community intends, by effectively supplying Iran with the means to produce a nuclear weapon.

Any agreement “doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb,” Netanyahu said. “So why would anyone make this deal?”

For more on his speech, head here.

  • Karen DeYoung
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Leaving the chamber, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called it a “powerful speech” that both “reinforced the very close American-Israeli relationship” and “clearly admitted the United States has done more for Israel than any other country,” particularly under the Obama administration.

Netanyahu, Feinstein had told CNN, “clearly…doesn’t like what the deal is. What he didn’t say was what would happen if there was no deal,” or what would happen if the United States’s negotiating partners — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — “all agreed, and the United States did not.”

Feinstein did indicate that she would prefer a deal that froze Iran’s nuclear program for 15 to 20 years, rather than the 10 years that Obama has said is currently being discussed.

  • Karen DeYoung
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Netanyahu called the current negotiations “a bad deal” that he said would “all but guarantee that Iran gets those [nuclear] weapons, lots of them.”

He insisted that there was a better deal to be had, through tougher negotiations, that would dismantle all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. But he provided no specifics as to how that deal could be achieved.

Raising the specter of “genocide,” Netanyahu said the days of passivity “are over” for Israel.

“I can promise you one thing. Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand,” he said to rousing applause as his speech drew to a close. “But I know that Israel does not stand alone. America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel.”

  • Mark Berman
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(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The complete transcript of Netanyahu’s remarks — complete with every time there was applause (the transcript has the word 43 times) — can be found here.

  • Mark Berman
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William Booth, The Post’s correspondent in Jerusalem, shared this quick analysis:

  • Mark Berman
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This may be indicative of the way at least some House Democrats are feeling about Netanyahu’s speech, which just concluded:

  • Mark Berman
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As he wound down his remarks, Netanyahu pivoted from discussing how Israel will stand against aggression by linking the two countries.

“I know that Israel does not stand alone,” he said. “I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel.”

When he was done speaking, he stood at the podium as members of Congress and others in attendance stood to give him a loud, thunderous round of applause. He remained at the podium briefly before heading up the aisle, where he was greeted by handshakes and continued applause, again echoing the way presidents are treated after delivering the State of the Union each year.

  • Karen DeYoung
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In his description of the terrorist danger Iran poses throughout the world, Netanyahu conflated some complicated situations, ultimately rolling them all together as “the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons” in ways that put him somewhat at odds with the Obama administration.

Among the “four Mideast capitals” he said were now under Iran’s control, he included Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. Iran is certainly, along with Russia, a primary backer of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. It is unarguably the principal patron and director of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The administration considers Houthi tribesman now in control of Sanaa to be aided and influenced by Iran, but not under its control. While Iran retains significant influence with Iraq’s Shiite-controlled government, that influence is seen in Washington as far less with current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi than under his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki. Shiite militias that Netanyahu said are now “rampaging through Iraq” are seen as a problematic but useful force in the fight against the Sunni forces of the Islamic State there.

But as far as the Islamic State is concerned, Netanyahu said, “the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

  • Mark Berman
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The members of Congress watching this speech are reacting with applause and ovations throughout the speech. They are also reacting in other, more visible ways to portions of the speech:

  • Mark Berman
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  • Mark Berman
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While the opening portions of Netanyahu’s speech were marked by prolonged applause and multiple ovations in the first minutes, the chamber has since fallen largely quiet. As Netanyahu details his problems with the proposed deal with Iran, members of Congress are looking on and quietly listening. Part of this is due to the nature of his remarks, as it is hard to see “potential nuclear nightmare” as an applause line.

But as he wound down that portion, and began discussing what he believes Iran should do going forward, the applause resumed, with the attendees standing and cheering as he called on Iran to “stop supporting terrorism around the world.”

When he called on Iran to “stop threatening to annihilate my country, the one and only Jewish state,” the chamber again rose to its feet with thunderous applause.

Behind the scenes photo of Prime Minister #Netanyahu delivering his joint address to Congress. #IStandWithIsrael

A photo posted by Congressman Frank Guinta (@repfrankguinta) on

  • Mark Berman
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Netanyahu has stated that the nuclear inspection process is flawed, because he believes Iran could evade inspectors and hide proof of its status and ambitions.

“Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we do not know about, the U.S. and Israel,” Netanyahu said.

In what will likely be a soundbite from the speech, he said that Iran plays “hide and cheat” when it comes to inspections.

  • Mark Berman
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  • Mark Berman
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  • Karen DeYoung
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In an interesting note, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was sitting front and center before Netanyahu. While she is rising when others stand to applaud, Feinstein has kept a stone face. Just two days ago, she described what she called Netanyahu’s “arrogance” in saying he spoke for all Jews.

“He doesn’t speak for me on this,” Feinstein told CNN. Despite his disclaimers, she said, Netanyahu’s speech was “certainly a sign of a political move” heading into Israeli elections two weeks from now.

“Whether this political move can be effective or not, I don’t know,” she said. “But it’s not helpful.”

  • Mark Berman
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  • Carol Morello
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Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are talking to each other a lot on Tuesday, but they’re leaving the world stage to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Reporters traveling with Kerry had no opportunity to ask him any questions before Netanyahu arrived in Congress, and they won’t afterward, either, said his spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

The diplomats talked for about two hours in the morning, and will resume talks shortly after 4 p.m., about an hour before Netanyahu started addressing Congress.

The only very small window into how talks are going has been answers to questions shouted at them when they were walking separately, strolling around the arty city of Montreux.

“We’re working away, productively,” Kerry answered to one question.

Zarif was spotted near a statue of Freddy Mercury, the singer of the rock band queen, who settled in Montreux.

“We’re working, we’re working,” he said.

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