Netanyahu dismisses Obama criticism of Iran speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking during a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEN GURION AIRPORT, Israel (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday brushed aside criticism from US President Barack Obama of his speech to Congress, in which he warned Washington was paving the way to a nuclear-armed Iran.

The White House was infuriated by Mr Netanyahu's address on Tuesday to a joint session of the US Congress, where he laid out Israeli concerns at an emerging world deal with Iran on its nuclear programme.

Mr Obama, who refused to meet Netanyahu during his 48-hour visit to Washington, dismissed the speech as containing "nothing new", saying the Israeli leader "did not offer any viable alternatives".

Mr Netanyahu, however, insisted on Wednesday that he had "presented a practical alternative, which would impose tougher restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, extending Iran's breakout time by years".

"I also called on the P5+1 (world powers negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran) to insist on a deal that would link the lifting of those restrictions to Iran's ceasing its sponsorship of terrorism around the world, its aggression against its neighbours and its calls for Israel's destruction," he said on his return to Israel.

The Israeli leader also cited "encouraging responses from both Democrats and Republicans" to his address.

"They understood that the current proposal would lead to a bad deal and that the alternative is a better deal," said Mr Netanyahu.

Israel believes Iran and world powers are likely to reach a deal that eases international sanctions on Teheran without applying sufficiently stringent safeguards to stop it developing nuclear weapons.

Mr Netanyahu's address came just four weeks before a March 31 target for a framework deal, and two weeks before a March 17 general election in Israel in which he is hoping to win a third consecutive term in office.