The Story Of Esther And Netanyahu’s Attack On Iranian History

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently declared that he believes it is “possible” that President Trump was sent by God to protect the Jewish people from Iranians. Pompeo’s remarks came during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, after he was asked if “President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace.” In likening Trump to Esther, Pompeo added that he was “confident that the Lord is at work here.”

Aside from the preposterous notion that President Trump enjoys divine support, Pompeo’s remarks distort the story of Esther and demonize the Iranian people and their history. Nor is Pompeo’s framing of this Biblical story new. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long twisted the Old Testament’s book of Esther to advance a hawkish agenda on Iran. Such rhetoric from Pompeo and Netanyahu is demagogic hyperbole at best and dangerous incitement against the Iranian people at worst.

Esther denouncing Haman (Ernest Normand)

Importantly, Pompeo’s comments occur in the context of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, marked by a unilateral withdrawal from the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the imposition of draconian U.S. sanctions that are impoverishing ordinary Iranians, and senior Trump officials exploring options to launch U.S. military strikes.

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Netanyahu Continues His Push to Unravel the Iran Nuclear Deal

Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202-386-6325

Washington, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation on Iran’s nuclear program:

“Netanyahu’s desperation to kill the Iran deal and drag the United States into war with Iran was on full display today. Netanyahu played a key role in helping con the American people into the war with Iraq and is now pulling out all the stops to do the same with Iran.

“Netanyahu revealed nothing that indicates Iran is not upholding its obligations under the nuclear deal. Anyone familiar with the history of Iran’s nuclear program or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will not be surprised by allegations that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program fifteen years ago. Those well-known concerns were the reason why the international community negotiated an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program and subject it to intrusive international inspections.

“Netanyahu and others who are working to kill the deal are trying to reopen a crisis that had been contained. The nuclear deal ensures that if Iran tries to cheat, they will get caught. Exiting the agreement will take international inspectors out of Iran and eliminate the strict limits now in place on Iran’s nuclear program. Trump risks driving Iran to not just abandon the nuclear deal but perhaps the entire Non-Proliferation Treaty. Concerns about Iran’s past nuclear work will mean little in a scenario where the deal is dead, there are no longer inspectors in Iran and zero constraints on Iran’s nuclear work.

“If Trump is hoodwinked into abrogating the deal out of notions that Iran lied about its nuclear program fifteen years ago, we will be repeating the foolhardy notions that led to the war in Iraq – a catastrophe that Netanyahu promised would bring enormous benefits to the entire region.

“If Trump is truly disinclined to start a new Middle East war and putting U.S. troops on the ground for generations, he can’t listen to foreign leaders in the region who have a vested interest in dragging the U.S. deeper into regional conflagrations.

“Unfortunately, Trump’s own advisors are likely encouraging stunts like we saw today. It is hard to believe it is a coincidence that Netanyahu’s announcement comes on the heels of Pompeo’s meeting with the Prime Minister. Trump’s war cabinet has not even been in place for a week but is already setting the stage for an all out regional war.

“Iran hawks cannot win an argument about the fact Iran is complying with the Iran deal and that abandoning the agreement would be a disaster. Thus far they have resorted to relitigating the terms of the deal by claiming to want to fix it, now they are relitigating the history of Iran’s nuclear program.”


Policy Memo: Analysis of Netanyahu’s Speech

Netanyahu was wrong about the Iraq war, wrong about the interim nuclear deal that has constrained Iran’s nuclear activities, and he is wrong about the President’s negotiations toward a comprehensive agreement with Iran.  Aside from the debate over the breach of protocol and damage to the U.S.-Israeli relationship, this was a full assault on an agreement that would offer the strongest possible safeguards against an Iranian nuclear weapon. Netanyahu came to defeat a historic diplomatic achievement and undermine the U.S. President. 

Netanyahu belittled the prospect of enhanced inspections and verification, stating “inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.” 

Reality: No nation has ever obtained a nuclear weapon under IAEA inspections. 

  • North Korea developed weapons only by leaving the NPT and ejecting inspectors. 
  • A deal would lock in permanent enhanced inspections and ensure Iran remains in the NPT. If Iran cheated and tried to break out, we would catch them. 
  • Netanyahu wants to sacrifice all of this. His approach – killing a nuclear deal – would actually risk having no inspections, no restraints, and no compliance with the NPT.

PM Netanyahu criticized a deal because it would only last “about a decade.”

Reality: The increased transparency, inspections, and verification mechanisms under a deal would be permanent.

  • Under a final agreement Iran would ratify the IAEA Additional Protocol, expanding inspector access to Iran’s nuclear program and suspect nuclear sites on a permanent basis.
  • All of the alternative options to constrain Iran’s nuclear program are far shorter than the 10-15 years of a deal:

– Deal – 10-15 years. The constraints on Iran’s enrichment under a deal are expected to last for 10 years and scale down for approximately 5 years after that – for a total of 15 years. At this point, there would be very strong incentives against Iran violating its permanent obligations and breaking out.

– US military strikes: ~2 years. Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would not destroy Iran’s nuclear know how, and military experts expect could only delay Iran from rebuilding for approximately 1-2 years. Strikes would also provide cover for Iran to abandon the NPT and eject inspectors, and would provide strong incentives for Iran to quickly breakout and develop a nuclear deterrent.

– Israeli military strikes: ~6 months. Israel could not destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and could only set it back by approximately 6 months.  

– Sanctions: no constraint. Sanctions may slow Iranian procurement, but in the past decade of sanctions, Iran has gone from <200 centrifuges to >20,000 centrifuges. Only the interim agreement–and the trading-in of sanctions–has arrested this progress. 

Netanyahu urged Congress to pursue a “better deal” that only exists in fantasy. 

Reality: There is no better deal on the table that would dismantle Iran’s entire nuclear program. The alternative to diplomacy is war.

  • Netanyahu made clear he opposes any deal with Iran, yet presented no alternative – that’s because his alternative is war and regime change. Such an approach is bad for the U.S. and bad for Israel.
  • Negotiations with Iran took off when the counterproductive “zero enrichment” demand was dropped. Resurrecting the idea will block any viable agreement.
  • Netanyahu would prefer we sacrifice a deal that would put real constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and instead issue tough talk demands about non-nuclear issues.
  • Sanctions and threats of war would provoke Iran to expand its nuclear program and limit the access of inspectors to Iran’s nuclear program.
  • This would increase the likelihood of both an Iranian nuclear weapon and war. U.S. troops would likely pay the price if Congress helps Netanyahu kill the deal.

Netanyahu warned that Iran is a bad actor stretching its influence across the region. 

Reality: there is strategic convergence between the U.S. and Iran on certain regional issues, including the battle against ISIS. 

  •  Netanyahu listed a long litany of problems that the international community has with Iran’s activities. But that is no reason to reject an agreement that would offer strong assurances against a nuclear-armed Iran.
  • Indeed, Iran’s concerning activities outside of the nuclear sphere are a strong justification for the Obama administration’s continued pursuit of a nuclear agreement. 

A strong nuclear deal is not a threat to the U.S. or Israel, but it could be a threat to Netanyahu’s political future. Congress shouldn’t let this political stunt blow up fruitful negotiations that hold the promise of resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis.

NIAC Statement on Netanyahu’s Speech

Trita Press Release




NIAC President Trita Parsi issued the following statement following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address before Congress:

“In 2002, Benjamin Netanyahu ‘guaranteed’ Congress that the Iraq war would have ‘enormous positive reverberations on the region.’ Today, he ‘guaranteed’ that the pending nuclear deal with Iran will ensure an Iranian nuclear bomb. Netanyahu was dead wrong on Iraq, and he is dead wrong on Iran. 

“If Congress follows his lead and rejects a deal with Iran that peacefully prevents nuclear weapons, it could be an even greater foreign policy mistake than the Iraq invasion.

“In 2002, Netanyahu was part of a crowd that advocated for a war on false pretenses. Today, he is leading the crowd toward a new war, but this time they have learned to call it otherwise. He presented a fantasy approach and provided no alternative to a nuclear deal. This is a question of securing a deal that places verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, versus a non-strategy of issuing tough talk demands and getting nothing for it but a war.
“Netanyahu opposed diplomacy with Iran from the outset. He has sought to prevent it, he has sought to derail it. But now he expects the President of the United States to listen to him on how to conduct it – without offering any realistic alternative.
“The conduct of the government in Iran is problematic, to say the least. Its human rights abuses are deplorable, for instance. But citing 35 years of enmity can not be an argument for rejecting an opportunity to end Iran’s problematic policies. Such an argument only serves to ensure that the problems never get resolved.
“The reason is clear: There is no alternative to a peaceful, negotiated outcome with Iran.”

Netanyahu’s Dangerous Iran Push

With the U.S. and Iran continuing to narrow gaps toward a nuclear deal that would prevent a disastrous war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is gearing up to play spoiler. As part of his campaign, Netanyahu has ignored all protocol in order to attack the negotiations before a joint session of Congress next month, and has also reportedly leaked information in an effort to distort and undermine the U.S. negotiating position. In so doing, Netanyahu is not just challenging President Obama, but also the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China, who are all working toward the agreement that Netanyahu opposes so vociferously. 

Democratic lawmakers have voiced their frustration with Netanyahu’s open efforts to subvert the President’s Iran policy, to keep the President and Democratic leadership in the dark, and his apparent willingness to weaken the U.S.-Israel relationship for domestic political gain ahead of next month’s election. Yesterday, 23 representatives – led by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Maxine Waters (D-CA) – released a joint letter urging Netanyahu to postpone the speech. More than two dozen Democrats have already stated that they will not attend, and many more are leaving open the possibility of skipping the speech. 

Meanwhile, Republicans have exploited the speech in an attempt to score cheap political points. A resolution welcoming Netanyahu, introduced by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, has garnered 50 cosponsors in the Senate – all Republican. While Netanyahu likely hoped his speech would galvanize bipartisan support for Congress to scuttle the negotiations or veto a forthcoming agreement, it has only deepened the partisan divide.

Netanyahu’s moves have also deepened the mutual distrust between himself and President Obama. Obama has made the case that long-term nuclear limits combined with intrusive inspections offer the best assurances against a potential Iranian nuclear weapon. The President has been clear that new Congressional sanctions pose an unacceptable risk that would increase the likelihood of the U.S. getting dragged into another military conflict. The White House has also issued a veto threat against a rumored Senate Republican push to demand an immediate Congressional vote on any final deal, which would give opponents of diplomacy a last ditch tool to try to scuttle an agreement. 

So far, Netanyahu and groups like AIPAC have been relatively quiet regarding the Congressional vote proposal, but have continued to push Congress to pass sanctions despite Obama’s objection. According to Israel’s own intelligence services, passing new sanctions would be like throwing a grenade into the negotiating process. Such a move would kill negotiations and end the limitations and enhanced inspections brought by the interim nuclear deal. Rather than something to avoid, Netanyahu sees this as a reason to toss the grenade. He believes that by wrecking the negotiations, sanctions and the threat of war could convince Iran to cry uncle and give up all nuclear activities. He is gravely mistaken. As Iran has proven, it would respond to escalation with its own form of escalation, an expanding nuclear program.

Instead of a limited and heavily-monitored Iranian enrichment program, Iran could resume enrichment to the 20% level or even to 60%, as Iran’s hardliners have suggested. With the failure of negotiations, and the collapse of enhanced inspections and restraints, Iran could immediately expand its enrichment capacity by bringing nearly ten thousand additional centrifuges online in short order and dramatically increasing its centrifuge numbers towards the 190,000 envisioned by hardliners. Intrusive, daily inspections of enrichment facilities would end, diminishing our ability to detect either overt nuclear breakout or covert nuclear activities. And if the U.S. is to blame for the collapse of negotiations, international enforcement of the sanctions regime would erode even as Iran’s nuclear program expands. 

The combination of reduced knowledge of Iran’s expanding nuclear program and the burning of diplomatic prospects would put the U.S. in a difficult position. Would the U.S. accept Iran on the cusp of a nuclear weapon threshold? Launch military strikes that would only delay, and likely incentivize, Iran’s nuclear pursuits? Or undertake a decade-long occupation to change regimes and guarantee a non-nuclear Iran? 

The American people appear skeptical of what Netanyahu is selling. In a recent CNN poll, 63% of Americans and 81% of Democrats opposed the decision to secretly invite Netanyahu. And, as NIAC’s ad in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times points out, Americans have good reason to view the speech with a wary eye. Netanyahu promised in Congressional testimony in 2002 that the U.S. invasion would have “enormous, positive reverberations on the region.” Contrast that to Obama, who rightly warned that the invasion would “only fan the flames of the Middle East.”

What is terrible policy for both the U.S. and Israel could still be good politics for Netanyahu. After all, he has cast Iran as the nuclear boogeyman for decades, and to back away could be perceived as weakness by right-wing Israeli voters. But by sticking with the speech as planned, Netanyahu is going to put Congress in the position of having to choose between President Obama and the international community’s efforts to reach a deal and the Israeli Prime Minister’s determination to sabotage it. If they choose Netanyahu’s course, the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear weapon and war will greatly increase, to the extreme detriment of the region – Israel, included.

Originally published in Huffington Post.

NIAC Runs Full Page NY Times Ad on Netanyahu Visit

Press Release - For Immediate Release




Washington, DC – Today, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) ran a full-page ad in the New York Times highlighting John Boehner and Benjamin Netanyahu’s outrageous political stunt that could kill diplomacy with Iran and start a war.

“The U.S. and its closest allies are on the brink of a historic deal that will both prevent an Iranian bomb and war with Iran, and Congressional hawks are orchestrating political stunts with foreign leaders to try to kill it,” said NIAC President Trita Parsi. “The American people do not want another senseless military adventure and certainly don’t consider Benjamin Netanyahu to be their commander in chief.”

NIAC NYT Ad fullThe NIAC ad provides a call-in number and website for Americans concerned by Netanyahu’s address and supportive of a diplomatic approach to Iran to contact their lawmakers and urge them to skip Netanyahu’s address and support the negotiations.

A recent CNN poll found that a majority of 63% of Americans oppose Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, which was orchestrated without notifying the White House.

“All doubt has been removed: Netanyahu will oppose any peaceful deal with Iran and will instead seek to blow up the diplomatic efforts of the United States and risk starting a war,” said Parsi. “Congress better take into account that if they buy what Netanyahu is selling, it will be American troops who pay the cost.”

NIAC’s ad also highlights that, in one of the most critical national security debates of our time – the decision of whether to invade Iraq – Netanyahu was brought to testify before Congress. In his remarks he advocated strongly for the war, telling lawmakers ‘if you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.’ 

“After a decade marked by thousands of American casualties, suicide bombings, massive regional destabilization, and now the ascendence of ISIS, it is clear that Netanyahu and those who lobbied for the Iraq war are in no position to give Congress further advice,” said Parsi. “There is an opportunity to stop the next catastrophic war before it starts, and that only happens if diplomacy is allowed to succeed.”

Negotiations between the P5+1 are ongoing, with a target of securing a framework agreement in March and a final nuclear agreement by June 30.

“If the U.S. and its partners can secure an Iran deal in the coming weeks, the same people who promised that war with Iraq would be a cakewalk will tell Americans we should reject an Iran deal and eventually take our chances with another war,” said Parsi. “The fact that Congress is giving Netanyahu a platform to repeat this message is a very troubling sign, but I think the majority of Americans will take action to ensure we do embrace this historic opportunity and avoid the grave mistakes of the past.”

Sponsor of Iran War Bills Backs Netanyahu Speech

Rep. Trent Franks

Washington D.C – The Congressman responsible for several pushes for military action against Iran is now leading an effort to ensure that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is given Congressional platform to oppose the Iran nuclear talks.

Representative Trent Franks, who has introduced legislation authorizing war against Iran, condemning the nuclear talks and insisting on outlandish demands, and demanding Congress hold a veto over any final nuclear deal, is now circulating a letter in support of a Netanyahu’s planned address before Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner,  facing backlash for his controversial invitation to bring Netanyahu to Congress just weeks before Israeli elections and in the midst of a domestic standoff over Iran sanctions, may not see much benefit from Franks’  effort. Already, those opposing the talks and supporting the Netanyahu visit have faced criticism that they prefer a war over a nuclear deal; gaining the backing of those in Congress who overtly pro-war only reinforces that criticism.

The White House has called the invite a “breach of protocol.”  American officials, military leaders, and members of Congress have warned the invitation is a dangerous and perhaps unconstitutional attempt to undermine a sitting U.S. President. Netanyahu is expected to use the planned March 3rd speech to promote new sanctions that the White House has threatened to veto and which diplomats involved in the nuclear negotiations say would torpedo the talks.

“Two decades ago…Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, warning of the danger that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and sponsorship of terrorism posed to world security,” reads the Franks letter, which is also being led by Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Lance Leonard (R-NJ). “Four years ago, the Prime Minister was here with the same message. Unfortunately his warnings went unheeded, and now – after continuing negotiations have failed to produce tangible results – Iran is closer than ever to obtaining nuclear weapons, while its terrorist proxies are operating unhindered, sowing chaos across the Middle East.”

The Franks letter comes on the heels of a different Congressional letter urging Boehner to postpone the speech until after the Israeli elections and the deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran. “As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the President,” write Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN), Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Steve Cohen (D-TN). Their letter, which is still being circulated for signatures says that Boehner’s invitation “has the potential to harm U.S. foreign policy” and “appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran.”

For Franks, however, undermining the negotiations has been precisely the point. Like Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), who has said explicitly that he supports new sanctions because they would kill the Iran talks, Franks has been forthcoming about his intentions. In addition to his past attempts to press for war with Iran, he has also helped lead Congressional efforts to condemn the negotiations and to pledge U.S. backing if Israel decides to launch military strikes against Iran. Franks is also a vocal supporter of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a controversial Iranian exile group that advocates armed resistance against Iran and was listed as a terrorist organization until 2012.

As it stands, Netanyahu’s speech will proceed as planned. But as the two Congressional letters remain in circulation, some members of the House and Senate have begun issuing statements opposing the speech and indicating they will not attend if the address moves forward. Vice President Joe Biden has been noncommittal as to whether he will attend the session, as is customary, and the White House has made clear that the President and Cabinet officials will not meet with Netanyahu. By the time March 3rd comes, instead of his typical visit to the White House and bipartisan reception, Netanyahu may have to settle for a meeting with Trent Franks and his allies in the pro-war camp.

>> Take Action: Tell Congress to Postpone the Netanyahu Address

Growing Backlash to Boehner’s Inappropriate Invitation

Speaker John Boehner’s invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress has been criticized as overtly-partisan, damaging to U.S. interests, and damaging to U.S.-Israel relations by top current and former U.S. officials, lawmakers, diplomats, military leaders, media outlets, and Israeli officials (see full list below). 

Tell Congress to Stop Netanyahu’s Speech Today.


Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – “It’s a serious big honor that we extend. That it should be extended two weeks before an election in a country without collaboration among the leaders of Congress, and without collaboration with the White House, is not appropriate.”

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) –  Butterfield said that he is “”very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus” among members of Congress.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) –  “For the sake of diplomacy, peace, and respect for our ally Israel, to say nothing of stability in the Middle East, Speaker Boehner must cancel the joint session of Congress with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. If he does not, I will refuse to be part of a reckless act of political grandstanding.”
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) – “Having heard from many constituents across MD4, I’ve decided not to attend the Joint Meeting w/ Prime Minister Netanyahu. #diplomacyfirst”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) –  “I just think it’s the wrong thing. We shouldn’t be interfering in a foreign election, which we’re doing. And we certainly shouldn’t be inviting a foreign leader of Canada, Palau, Peru or Israel to rebut our president on a foreign policy matter.”
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) Constituent Letter –  “I think this represents a blatant disrespect for the President and the time honored tradition of foreign dignitaries being invited by whomever is President to our country. The Speaker chose to act unilaterally and during a period of negotiations with Iran which are highly sensitive and critically important. This is no time to play politics with the negotiations currently underway with Iran on the issue of nuclear weapons.”
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) – “I call upon Speaker Boehner and Ambassador Dermer to do the right thing and postpone this speech. Once the election in Israel is over and the current P5+1 negotiating deadline has passed, they should respect protocol and confer with President Obama and congressional Democrats on a time for the Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) – “It’s not just about disrespect for the president, it’s disrespect for the American people and our system of government for a foreign leader to insert himself into a issue that our policymakers are grappling with.  It’s not simply about President Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader. It’s deeper than that.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) –  “I think it’s an affront to the president and the State Department what the speaker did.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) –  “It’s a deliberate attempt to try to influence the Israeli election and done right after the State of the Union address in which the president said foreign policy is getting better, and Mr. Boehner wants to demonstrate that things are not getting better.”
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) – “I find it very disturbing when a foreign leader in the midst of a campaign for re-election is allowed to address Congress for the sole purpose of undermining a foreign policy priority shared by the Obama administration and our European allies to score political points at home. In my view Mr. Netanyahu’s speech before Congress is nothing more than a campaign event hosted by Speaker Boehner and paid for by the American people. Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election campaign is not my concern, but politicizing and damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship by aligning his government with Republicans in Congress against President Obama is something I completely reject. For these reasons, I will not be attending his address to a joint session of Congress next month.”
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-GA) –  “It’s a campaign stunt, and I’m not working for his campaign. I’m not a standing stooge.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) –  “What will be remembered here is the slight against our president and the partisan political nature of it, and I don’t know who’s served by that.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) – “To me, it is somewhat of an insult to the president of the United States. Barack Obama is my president, he’s the nation’s president, and it is clear therefore that I’m not going to be there, as a result of that, not as a result of the good people of Israel.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) – “He (Speaker Boehner) has demonstrated that he is willing to play childish games with our most serious questions of war and peace, and is equally willing to put partisan advantage over Israel’s security.  That the Speaker would seek to undermine the historic bi-partisan support for Israel in this way is an unprecedented, reprehensible act worthy of condemnation by both sides of the aisle, and from all friends of Israel.” 
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) – “It is very disrespectful to this president, and what concerns me more is that I think it’s a pattern that is starting to develop from this speaker that we’re getting more and more disrespectful of the office of the presidency.  I think it’s silly and petty.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)  – “I think for us to extend an invitation two weeks before the Israeli election gives Israelis the impression we’re trying to meddle in their politics and I also find it extraordinary that a world leader would be invited before the Congress effectively to lobby in favor of a bill that the president opposes.”
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) – “My preference would be that the prime minister postponed his speech until after the deadline on these Iran negotiations and after the election. I don’t think Congress should become a forum, basically, for political campaigns in other countries.”
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) – “I am totally outraged at Speaker Boehner for doing it, I think it’s, it was deliberately designed to undermine the president — that’s close to subversion.”
Sen. Harry Reid (D-CA)  – “This was not the right thing to do.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) – “I remain hopeful that his address would be delayed until after their election.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) – “We have a strong relationship, a strong alliance with Israel. For the speaker to decide to go at it alone and to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu without consulting with the White House was a mistake.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) –  “My concern is that it’s obviously political, and it uses the backdrop of the United States House of Representatives, and the Senate and the House, two weeks before a political campaign, and violates all the protocol that’s always existed in terms of working this out with the president.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) – “It is not the norm to do this right before an election and it is being widely reported in the Israeli press as the U.S. expressing some kind of a preference.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) – “The unfortunate way that House leaders have unilaterally arranged this, and then heavily politicized it, has demolished the potential constructive value of this joint meeting. They have orchestrated a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) – “It didn’t show a lot of class. If it had been George W. Bush or Reagan or Clinton or whoever, protocol is protocol.” 
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) – “I’m sick about the fact that protocol has been violated, but you know, I’m always eager to hear what he has to say.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) – “The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy and the idea that the president wasn’t even consulted, that is wrong…I am not going. I may watch it on TV, but I’m not going.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) – “I am disappointed in the Republican leadership’s invitation of Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress with the apparent purpose of undermining President Obama’s foreign policy prerogatives…I will not be attending Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech because it does more harm than good to the bipartisan U.S.-Israel alliance.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) – “”I think he (Netanyahu) would be well advised to withdraw, so we’ll see what happens,” 
President Barack Obama – “I’m declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is, we don’t meet with any world leader two weeks before their election. I think that’s inappropriate, and that’s true with some of our closest allies.”
Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary – “The protocol would suggest that the leader of one country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there. This particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”
Senior Joint Chiefs of Staff officer – “It’s one thing for Americans to criticize their president, and another entirely for a foreign leader to do it. Netanyahu doesn’t get it — we’re not going to side with him against the commander in chief. Not ever.”
Former U.S. Diplomats and Generals:
Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State – “”He (Netanyahu) is interfering in our internal affairs and I don’t want to interfere in Israeli internal affairs but it strikes me that there’s an awful lot going on in his neighborhood, in the Middle East, and that’s where he should be.”
James Baker, former U.S. Secretary of State – “The executive branch of government really has the primary power and responsibility and authority to conduct the nation’s foreign policy. It’s not in the Congress, it’s in the executive branch. So our foreign policy benefits when there’s cooperation and so does the issue of U.S.-Israeli relations.”
Edward Djerejian, former U.S. ambassador to Israel – “This is an unnecessary irritant in the basic U.S.-Israeli relationship and it couldn’t come at a more delicate time, where the Middle East region is in such turbulence and there’s so many challenges.”
Gen. Paul Eaton (retired) – “It is highly inappropriate for the speaker of the house to so publicly meddle in foreign affairs. It is a gross breach of protocol to invite a head of state without due coordination with the president.”
Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (retired) – “I can tell you from my own experience that Mr. Netanyahu is way out of his lane. And you can be sure there isn’t a military officer in uniform who would get involved in this issue. It’s not just that Netanyahu is showing disrespect for Mr. Obama; it’s that he’s disrespecting U.S. institutions — he’s thumbing his nose at our way of doing things. Even for those out of uniform this is a mistake. It’s one thing to show disrespect for President Obama, that happens all the time, but it’s another thing to show disrespect for America. That just can’t be tolerated.”
Gen. Robert Hoar (retired) – “I think that Mr. Netanyahu is making a mistake, but that’s just my personal opinion. You’ll note that his decision to speak before the Congress was meant to highlight his view that the U.S. should impose more sanctions on Iran. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Israel has become the issue — not Iran. Is that really what he intended? So his strategy, to bring us together is actually pulling us apart. It’s unbelievable.”
Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel – “Netanyahu is using the Republican Congress for a photo-op for his election campaign and the Republicans are using Bibi for their campaign against Obama. Unfortunately, the U.S. relationship will take the hit. It would be far wiser for us to stay out of their politics and for them to stay out of ours.”
Current and Former Israeli Officials and Lawmakers:
Zehava Gal-On, Meretz Party chair – “The prime minister who speaks from morning until night about the Iranian threat, is prepared to sacrifice Israel’s position in exchange for an election campaign photo-op.”
Isaac Herzog, Labor Party chair – “The time has come when Bibi (Netanyahu) must announce the cancellation of his visit to Congress. In conversations I’ve held with many European and US leaders, it is clear there is great anger over Netanyahu diverting the discussion on Iran’s nuclear program for political gain, and turning it into a confrontation with the president of the United States.”
Tzipi Livni, Hatnuah chairwoman – “A responsible prime minister who first thinks of the good of his country’s citizens does not do such a thing. A responsible prime minister would know to work with the president of the United States — with any president — and protect our most important interests.”
Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. – “It’s advisable to cancel the speech to Congress so as not to cause a rift with the American government.”
Yaron Sideman, Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region – “It is our impression that these people’s (right wing groups’) support for the speech stems from their identification with, and admiration for, a move to defy and humiliate President Obama, more than from the importance they attribute to the Iranian issue.”
Shelly Yachimovitch, Knesset member – “It’s a very brutal and unacceptable bypass of the president of the United States and something like that simply damages [Israel].”
Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, former intelligence chief – “When we manage our relationship with the US, we have to manage it simultaneously with the president and Congress. The prime minister has made it in to a partisan issue in the US, and we cannot let Israel become a problem for one party or the other.”
Editorials and Commentators:
Chicago Sun-Times – “Boehner and Netanyahu undoubtedly meant to poke President Obama, bruising him and the vital working relationship between the U.S — specifically U.S. Democrats — and Israel.”
Dallas Morning News – “U.S. diplomacy on such a serious issue as Iranian nuclear weapons must not be swayed by a foreign politician’s re-election bid. In fact, Netanyahu himself blasted a previous Israeli prime minister for doing exactly the kind of pre-vote maneuver he plans to do. Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum are questioning Netanyahu’s wisdom. They warn that the trip could damage the already strained relationship with the Obama White House and, perhaps more important, derail the Iran negotiations at a crucial phase in the talks. Netanyahu is unlikely to tell Congress anything members haven’t already heard, so why the urgency?”
Los Angeles Times – “The diplomats who are actually conducting the negotiations insist that meaningful progress has been made and that Iran has abided by its commitment not to expand its nuclear program during the talks in exchange for limited relief from existing sanctions. If that’s the case, legislation by Congress now could derail the diplomatic process. Why take that risk?”
New York Times – “Lawmakers have every right to disagree with presidents; so do foreign leaders. But this event, to be staged in March a mile from the White House, is a hostile attempt to lobby Congress to enact more sanctions against Iran, a measure that Mr. Obama has rightly threatened to veto.”
San Francisco Chronicle – “It’s a slap at President Obama, who didn’t ask for the Washington visit and doesn’t plan to meet with Netanyahu. It’s also deeply divisive, coming just three weeks before a deadline in the Iran talks aimed at controlling weapons work with outside inspections. Who are we dealing with, Iranian leaders must wonder, if the Obama team is at the negotiating table while Republicans are listening raptly to an Israeli leader who wants to torpedo the deal?”
USA Today – “When Netanyahu speaks on March 3, a pivotal deadline in the nuclear talks will be just three weeks away. While it’s fair to worry about a bad deal, the time to judge is after a framework agreement is reached. To kill any deal in the crib, as Netanyahu and the most radical factions in Iran are eager to do, is to destroy the last, best chance for a peaceful outcome, because chances that Iran will capitulate and drop its program under pressure are zero.”
Robert KaganThe Washington Post – “It doesn’t matter what good allies the United States and Israel are, and it doesn’t matter how bad relations may be between Netanyahu and President Obama. Allies don’t go big-footing around in each other’s politics.”
Jeffrey GoldbergThe Atlantic – “It makes absolutely no sense for an Israeli leader to side so ostentatiously with a sitting American president’s domestic political opposition.”

U.S.-Iran Diplomacy Now Stronger Than Netanyahu’s Pressure



Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408

Washington, DC – Three Congressional letters are being sent to the President regarding nuclear negotiations with Iran. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is pleased that Congress is not passing sanctions or measures that will restrict negotiators. The new political reality in Washington is that there is overwhelming support for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff with Iran and efforts to undermine negotiations have proven unsuccessful.

“The status quo, in which Netanyahu visits Washington, addresses AIPAC, and Congress agrees to slap new sanctions on Iran, has been turned on its head,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. “The White House, leaders in Congress, outside organizations, and the American people have all put their foot down and said that we don’t want a war and more sanctions, we want to give diplomacy a chance.”

Of the three letters being sent, NIAC opposed one but remained neutral on the others because the letters met key principles outlined in ajoint organizational letter and in correspondence between NIAC and members of Congress.

The letter opposed by NIAC, led by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Menendez and Senator Graham, includes guidelines for negotiations that can easily be construed by opponents of a diplomatic solution to force the U.S. to violate the terms of the preliminary agreement. NIAC urges those who signed the letter to clarify that this letter does not require zero enrichment or dismantlement of a civilian Iranian nuclear program, and that they do not support a vote on new Iran sanctions.

Conversely, while NIAC had concerns with some language in letters organized in the House by Majority Leader Cantor and Minority Whip Hoyer, and in the Senate by Armed Services Chairman Levin, these letters ultimately honor the terms of the preliminary agreement between Iran and the P5+1 and do not set preconditions for negotiators.

Most importantly, all three letters indicated that Congress will work with the administration to lift sanctions if a final deal is struck.

“As negotiations have progressed, some in Congress have wasted a lot of valuable time talking about ratcheting up Iran sanctions almost as if by force of habit,” said Abdi. “More and more in Congress are now realizing that we may soon see a final deal that takes an Iranian nuclear weapon off the table for good, but that the sanctions will need to be lifted in order to lock that deal in.”