Benjamin Netanyahu goes to Congress, saying patience with Iran wears thin

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to find greater sympathy in Congress than at the Obama White House for his view that time grows short to halt Iran's nuclear-weapons development.  

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (l.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the US Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets on Capitol Hill Tuesday with members of Congress, and he’s likely to find greater sympathy for his view that Israel can’t wait much longer to stop Iran than he did at the White House.

President Obama expressed confidence that the two leaders prefer a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions when he hosted Mr. Netanyahu Monday. He encouraged the Israeli leader to have patience and allow toughened international economic sanctions more time to bite before launching military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, which the West suspects is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu gave his answer loud and clear in a speech before a prominent pro-Israel lobby Monday night, saying Israel had been patient long enough.

“Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work,” he told 13,000 cheering participants at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee national conference. “None of us can afford to wait much longer.”

Netanyahu also noted that more than half of the members of Congress were in attendance to hear his speech – a subtle reminder to Mr. Obama that, if he “has Israel’s back,” as he told the AIPAC conference Sunday, then Congress does even more.

The battle for the title of Israel’s strongest defender takes on additional political overtones Tuesday as three of the four Republican presidential candidates addressed the AIPAC meeting.

In his remarks, released early by his campaign, Mitt Romney takes a swipe at Obama’s policy – and his 2008 campaign theme – saying, "Hope is not a foreign policy. The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve, backed by our power and readiness to use it."

Mr. Romney also criticizes Obama’s preference for diplomacy with Iran – and appears to echo Netanyahu’s position that patience with Iran has only allowed it to advance further down the nuclear road. “The administration's naive outreach to Iran gave the ayatollahs exactly what they wanted most. It gave them time," he says in his speech. "Whatever sanctions they may now belatedly impose, Iran has already gained three invaluable years."

Romney has been even more categorical on the campaign trail, asserting that a second Obama term would result in a nuclear-armed Iran. “If Barack Obama gets reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change,” Romney said campaigning in Georgia Sunday.

That assertion has drawn strong criticism from Democrats, who accuse Romney of playing with fire for political gain.

On Monday, Sen. Jack Reed (D) of Rhode Island criticized what he called Romney’s “overheated” comments, saying in a statement, “Distorting the President’s position and needlessly dividing Americans on a critical national security question may score political points with some, but it doesn’t serve the national interest.” Romney’s claim that, with Obama as US president, Iran is on the verge of getting the bomb “runs counter to the assessments of our military leaders and the intelligence community,” he added.

As much as Netanyahu is likely to bask in the glow of support he’ll find on the Hill, he was also mindful in his AIPAC speech to acknowledge Obama’s support for Israel and some agreement between the two leaders.

“I appreciate President Obama’s recent efforts to impose even tougher sanctions against Iran. These sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy,” he said, before adding, “But unfortunately, Iran’s nuclear program continues to march forward.”

Netanyahu the political leader knows that, as much as he may agree with Republican criticisms of Obama’s “diplomacy first” policy, it may still be Obama he has to deal with in the White House after November.

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