The nation’s top diplomat offered a decidedly undiplomatic take in describing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to a potential nuclear deal with Iran.
“Israel is safer today with the added time we have given and the stoppage of the advances in the nuclear program than they were before we got that agreement, which by the way the prime minister opposed,” Secretary of State John Kerry said during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing Wednesday. “He was wrong.”
Later, after continued prodding by lawmakers, Kerry snapped, “The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush. We all know what happened with that decision.”
It was an odd critique from Kerry, who had voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. It was also the latest in a string of increasingly harsh and personal attacks on Netanyahu by senior administration officials.
On Tuesday night, National Security Advisor Susan Rice told Charlie Rose in an interview that Netanyahu’s visit “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate. I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.”
At issue is the Israeli prime minister’s upcoming address to Congress, a speech he will make at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner after violating diplomatic protocol by failing to notify the White House in advance. Obama has had a famously tense relationship with Netanyahu for years, but the relationship has plunged to new lows because of the snub — and the fact that the Israeli leader will effectively be siding with Republicans in what is an increasingly partisan debate over the White House’s ongoing nuclear talks with Tehran.
During the March 3 speech, Netanyahu is expected to lobby Congress against a White House-backed nuclear deal with Iran. Israeli criticisms of the nuclear accord have grown louder in recent days as public and private comments from U.S., Iranian, and European negotiators have suggested that a possible deal is in sight. According to multiple reports, the two sides are nearing an agreement that would put a 10-year restriction on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. If Iran complies over a decade, enrichment limits would be lifted over a five-year period.
Netanyahu blasted the prospect of such an agreement at an Israeli military base Tuesday, vowing to do “everything that I can to prevent” it. “I will go to Washington to address the American Congress, because the American Congress is likely to be the final brake before the agreement between the major powers and Iran,” the prime minister said.
In her Tuesday interview, Rice refused to speculate on Netanyahu’s motives for making the speech. “The point is, we want the relationship between the United States and Israel to be unquestionably strong, immutable, regardless of political seasons in either country, regardless of which party may be in charge in either country…. We’ve worked very hard to have that,” Rice told Rose, “and we will work very hard to maintain that.”