Kerry raps critics of Iran nuclear talks in apparent swipe at Netanyahu
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US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday appeared to take a swipe at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying critics of an emerging nuclear deal with Iran did not know what they were talking about.
Speaking to senators, Kerry also said he expected to know soon whether Iran was willing to craft an “acceptable, verifiable” plan that would satisfy major powers that it is not seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu, who is scheduled to make a speech before a joint session of Congress on March 3, has described the agreement under negotiation with Iran as a “bad deal,” and said he would do what he could to prevent it.
“Anybody running around right now jumping in to say, ‘Well we don’t like the deal,’ or this or that, doesn’t know what the deal is. There is no deal yet,” Kerry told a Senate subcommittee. “And I caution people to wait and see what these negotiations produce.”
It was the second time in recent days in which the Obama administration, irked that Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was set up initially without their knowledge, appeared to criticize Israel over Iran.
Netanyahu declined on Tuesday an invitation to meet with US Senate Democrats during his trip to Washington.
“Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter to Senators Richard Durbin and Dianne Feinstein obtained by Reuters.
Durbin and Feinstein, two senior Senate Democrats, invited Netanyahu to a closed-door meeting with Democratic senators in a letter on Monday, warning that making US-Israeli relations a partisan political issue could have “lasting repercussions”.
"We offered the Prime Minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker (John) Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong," Durbin said. "His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades."
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Last Wednesday, the White House accused Israel of distorting its position in the nuclear talks through selective leaks, heightening tensions before Netanyahu’s visit to Congress.
The six major powers negotiating with Iran have set the end of March as a deadline to reach a framework accord on the nuclear issue, and Kerry suggested there may soon be clarity on whether one is possible.
“We expect to know soon whether or not Iran is willing to put together an acceptable, verifiable plan,” he told senators at a hearing on the State Department’s budget.
The United States and five powers - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - hope to secure an accord to restrain Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Washington suspects Iran may be trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran, however, has said its program is for peaceful purposes.
At a second Senate hearing, Kerry played down published reports that one idea under discussion would impose strict controls on Iran’s uranium enrichment for at least 10 years. If Iran complied, the controls would be gradually lifted over the final five years.
Asked about the reports, including one by the Associated Press, Kerry replied, “Don’t believe what you read.” He declined to provide details on the discussion.
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