Obama: Netanyahu has yet to ‘rebut’ value of Iran talks

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not offered “any rebuttal” to his administration’s argument for the success of Iran nuclear talks.

“I don’t think there’s been any rebuttal of my argument,” Obama told Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s New Day in an interview to be broadcast Sunday.


Zakaria had asked Obama about plans by Netanyahu to speak to Congress on March 3.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, invited Netanyahu to counter Obama’s arguments in his State of the Union speech last week that new Iran sanctions under consideration in Congress would unravel talks between Iran and the major powers.

Obama said in the speech the talks, aimed at swapping sanctions relief for guarantees Iran was not advancing toward a nuclear weapon, have halted Iran’s nuclear program, and he reiterated that argument in his interview with Zakaria.

“They have not advanced their nuclear program,” Obama said of Iran. “They have actually rolled back their stockpiles of highly enriched uranium. And so we have lost nothing during this period of negotiations.”

Israeli officials, Republicans and some Democrats in Congress and some conservative and pro-Israel analysts have said that the agreement governing the talks, allowing Iran limited enrichment capabilities and easing some sanctions, benefits Iran more than it does the major powers seeking to stem its nuclear ambitions.

Obama also said that he would not meet Netanyahu during his visit, which coincides with the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, because doing so two weeks before an Israel election was “inappropriate.”

Obama compared Netanyahu unfavorably to David Cameron, the British prime minister, who had insisted on a visit recently because to delay it would bring it too close to British elections.

Cameron “insisted that if he wants to come and it was a very important meeting, he needs to be far away enough from the election that it doesn’t look like in some ways we’re meddling or putting our thumbs on the scale.”

Zakaria’s publicists released excerpts Wednesday.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said in a speech Sunday at an Israel Bonds gala in Florida that the urgency of the issue made Netanyahu’s speech necessary.

“The prime minister feels the deepest moral obligation to appear before the Congress to speak about an existential issue facing the one and only Jewish state,” Dermer said. “This is not just the right of the prime minister of Israel. It is his most sacred duty — to do whatever he can to prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons that can be aimed at Israel.”