National Security Adviser Susan Rice asserted the U.S. rationale for negotiating a deal on Iran's nuclear program, hours before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will tell Congress that such an agreement could threaten the future of Israel.
Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Rice said that Iran is farther away from developing a nuclear weapon now than it was a year ago, but the international community will only enter into a pact that will stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“Now I want to be very clear: a bad deal is worse than no deal. And if that is the choice then there will be no deal,” Rice said. “We are not taking anything on trust. What matters are Iran’s actions, not its words."
Rice -- and President Obama in an interview with Reuters Monday -- said the best way to ensure that Iran does not get a weapon is a deal that lasts 10 years or more. When it is over, she said, Iran would be required to offer access to its facilities and assure countries that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon.
“There is simply no alternative that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better or longer than the type of comprehensive deal that we seek," she said.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry is scheduled to meet Tuesday morning with his Iranian counterpart in Geneva to iron out the framework of the deal before a March 24 deadline.
"Negotiations continue. And nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. As of today, significant gaps remain between the international community and Iran,” Rice said.
Rice took a veiled swipe at Netanyahu's speech, scheduled for Tuesday morning. The Israeli prime minister was invited to speak by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who did not inform the White House in advance.
“Sound bytes won’t prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Strong diplomacy, backed by pressure, can. And if diplomacy fails, let’s make it clear to the world that it is Iran’s responsibility," Rice said.
The upcoming speech has strained ties between the White House and Israeli government; Rice last week said Netanyahu's plan to address Congress would be "destructive" to relations between the countries. Rice sought to smooth over tensions Monday, giving a speech that was peppered with Hebrew and told personal anecdotes about traveling to Israel.
"The bottom line is simple: we have Israel’s back come hell or high water," Rice said. She added that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is "not negotiable and never will be," and that Obama's commitment to the nation is "deep and it is personal."
Rice recalled going to Jerusalem with Obama, where he declared that Iran would not get a nuclear weapon.
“President Obama said it, he meant it, and those are his orders to us all," she said.
To achieve that, she said, a “good deal is one that would verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon."
But Rice cautioned against pursing outcomes that cannot be achieved. Some, she said, want Iran to “forgo its domestic enrichment capacity entirely.” While it is desirable, “it is neither realistic nor achievable,” she said, noting that close international partners in the negotiations don’t support denying Iran “the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy.”
Obama, as Kerry said last week, asserted that Netanyahu has been wrong on Iran before, when he opposed a 2013 interim deal with the country.
"Netanyahu made all sorts of claims. This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting $50 billion worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true," Obama said. "It has turned out that, in fact, during this period we’ve seen Iran not advance its program. In many ways, it’s rolled back elements of its program."
Obama also said: “I would say that it's probably still more likely than not that Iran doesn't get to yes. But I think in fairness to them, they have been serious negotiators.
Netanyahu addressed AIPAC Monday morning, telling the crowd of thousands that his speech before Congress on Tuesday is not meant to signal any disrespect for Obama nor insert partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship.