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Netanyahu: Iran nuclear deal threatens Israel's security

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to speak out against a possible agreement between the US and Iran. (WPVI)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Monday that his plans to address Congress are not aimed at disrespecting President Barack Obama, even as he assailed the U.S. leader's bid for a nuclear deal with Iran as a threat to his country's survival.

"I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them," Netanyahu said during an address to a pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington.

As Netanyahu spoke, Secretary of State John Kerry was opening a new round of talks with Iran in Geneva aimed at reaching a framework nuclear deal ahead of a late March deadline. Obama views the prospect of a nuclear accord with the Islamic republic as a central component of his foreign policy legacy.

While Obama and Netanyahu have never had a warm personal relationship, the prime minister's visit to Washington this week has exposed the depth of their tensions.

At the heart of this latest flare-up is Netanyahu's decision to address a joint meeting of Congress, a Tuesday event during which he is sure to criticize the nuclear talks. The speech was arranged by Republican leaders without the Obama administration's knowledge, a move the White House blasted as a breach of diplomatic protocol.

Netanyahu's visit to Washington comes two weeks before Israeli elections, heightening the political overtones. Obama won't meet the prime minister while he is in town, citing longstanding policy to avoid appearing to play favorites in foreign elections.

In a preview of his speech to lawmakers, Netanyahu suggested that Obama did not - and could not- understand the extent of Israeli concerns about Iran's pursuit of a nuclear bomb.

"U.S. leaders worry about the security of their country," he said. "Israeli leaders worry about the survival of their country."

Despite his sharp rhetoric, Netanyahu declared that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel remains strong.

"Reports of the demise of the Israeli-U.S. relationship is not only premature, they're just wrong," Netanyahu said. "Our alliance is stronger than ever."

Netanyahu's remarks at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee were being bracketed by speeches from a pair of senior U.S. officials: U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

Power spoke warmly of the ties between the U.S. and Israel, saying the relationship was rooted in "shared, fundamental values." She highlighted the billions of dollars in military assistance Washington provides Israel and the constant defense the U.S. provides Israel at the United Nations.

Power said the deep ties between the longtime allies meant their relationship "should never be politicized."

The ambassador also defended Obama's pursuit of an accord with Iran and said the president shared Israel's commitment to preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"If diplomacy should fail, we know the stakes of a nuclear-armed Iran," she said. "We will not let it happen."

Rice was expected to deliver a more specific rebuttal to Netanyahu's criticism of the U.S.-led nuclear negotiations. She also has been among the most outspoken critics of the prime minister's plan to address Congress, calling the move "destructive" to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Geneva and Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.


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