Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he felt a "profound obligation to speak" to U.S. Congress members Tuesday about an issue that could threaten the survival of his country: Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.
In an appearance that has drawn controversy, Netanyahu stressed to a gathering of U.S. lawmakers the grave danger that Iran poses to his country.
Iran is sponsoring terrorism across the world, Netanyahu said, adding that Tehran's regime was "as radical as ever," could not be trusted and the deal being worked out with the United States would not block Iran's way to a bomb "but paves its way to a bomb."
"This is a bad deal," he said, "we're better off without it."
Given a rousing standing ovation as he arrived on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday, Netanyahu tried to defuse the tension surrounding his speech.
Regret over politicized event
"I regret that some see my appearance here as political," he said, adding that he was grateful to President Barack Obama for his public and private support of Israel, including U.S. military assistance and contributions to Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system.
"We appreaciate all that President Obama has done for Israel," he added.
About 50 Democratic members stayed away from the event, during which Netanyahu warned members that a nuclear deal being negotiated between the United States and Iran would threaten Israel's security.
“Some people feel the prime minister should not be here at this time, because in a couple weeks there will be an election in Israel," Republican Lindsey Graham said. "My business is to find out what's best for America when it comes to defending our nation. I do not think I can adequately do my job if I do not hear from the prime minister of Israel."
Netanyahu said Iran and its leaders pose a threat not only to Israel and the Middle East, but also to nations worldwide and called for action over Iran's nuclear program.
"Iran's regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel but also to the peace of the entire world," he said in remarks to the U.S. Congress.
He has said he thinks the so-called P5+1 group of global powers is planning to ease international sanctions without the ironclad safeguards needed to deny Tehran a nuclear bomb.
"If the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran, that deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons -- it will all but guarantee that Iran will get those nuclear weapons -- lots of them," Netanyahu said.
The U.S. administration says that is just not true, and warned that Netanyahu could unravel the negotiations if he mobilizes U.S. lawmakers in the Republican-held Congress against it.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said earlier Tuesday, "We [Democrats and Republicans] are in common purpose: to stop the development of a nuclear Iran. What troubles me greatly are the criticisms I have heard on this floor about the Obama administration and this issue. President Obama has made it clear from the start: he is opposed to having a nuclear Iran,” Durbin said.
“In fact, it was President Obama who really brought together the sanctions regime that is working to bring Iran to the negotiating table. ... We have to concede the obvious: were it not for the president's dogged determination, we would not have this alliance, this coalition imposing sanctions on Iran today that have made a difference,” he added.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that Netanyahu is trying to affect negotiations over Iran's nuclear program with his upcoming address to both chambers of the U.S. Congress.
“He's trying to, and I don't think trying to create tension and conflict helps anyone,” Zarif said to CNN outside talks in Switzerland with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf warned Netanyahu against revealing details of the deal shared in confidence in classified briefings with the Israelis.
"Any release of any kind of information like that would, of course, betray that trust," she said Monday.
Earlier Tuesday, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett suggested Obama would not watch the speech, telling MSNBC, "He's got a full day today."
Obama is scheduled to take part in a video conference with European leaders on the Ukraine crisis at 11:30 a.m. EST (1630 GMT), half an hour after the Israeli leader began speaking.