John Kerry tries to calm Netanyahu over Iran

Mr Netanyahu and wife Sarah leave Tel Aviv yesterday to travel to Washington. Picture: Getty

Mr Netanyahu and wife Sarah leave Tel Aviv yesterday to travel to Washington. Picture: Getty

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US SECRETARY of State John Kerry yesterday tried to calm tensions with Israel before prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s congressional address. But he insisted the Obama administration’s diplomatic record with Iran entitles the US to “the benefit of the doubt” as negotiators work toward a long-term nuclear deal.

Mr Kerry said before he left for more talks in Switzerland with Iran’s foreign minister, that Mr Netanyahu was welcome to speak in the US and that the administration did not want the event “turned into some great political football.”

That sentiment was a step back from some of the sharp rhetoric between the allies in recent weeks, and Mr Kerry mentioned that he had spoken to Mr Netanyahu as recently as Saturday.

But Mr Kerry stressed that Israel was safer as a result of the short-term nuclear pact that world powers and Iran reached in late 2013, and he described that improvement as the “standard we will apply to any agreement” with Tehran.

Officials have described the United States, Europe, Russia and China as considering a compromise that would see Iran’s nuclear activities severely curtailed for at least a decade, with the restrictions and US and Western economic penalties eased in the final years of a deal.

“We are going to test whether or not diplomacy can prevent this weapon from being created, so you don’t have to turn to additional measures including the possibility of a military confrontation,” Mr Kerry said yesterday.

“Our hope is that diplomacy can work. And I believe, given our success of the interim agreement, we deserve the benefit of the doubt to find out whether or not we can get a similarly good agreement with respect to the future.”

Mr Netanyahu, set to arrive in Washington last night, will press his opposition to a diplomatic accommodation of Iran’s nuclear program in a speech tomorrow to Congress. The prime minister says he is making the address out of concern for Israel’s security.

The invitation from Republican congressional leaders and Mr Netanyahu’s acceptance have caused an uproar that has exposed tensions between Israel and the US, its most important ally.

By consenting to speak, Mr Netanyahu angered the White House, which was not consulted in advance, and Democrats, who were forced to choose between showing support for Israel and backing the president.

“I will do everything in my ability to secure our future,” Mr Netanyahu said before flying to Washington.

The congressional speech also has sparked criticism in Israel, where Mr Netanyahu is seeking re-election on 17 March. He also planned to speak today at the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC.

Mr Netanyahu considers unacceptable any deal that does not entirely end Iran’s nuclear program. But President Barack Obama is willing to leave some nuclear activity intact.

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