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'Nothing New' In Netanyahu's Speech, Obama Says

President Obama said Tuesday that there was "nothing new" in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress about Iran's nuclear program.
Jacquelyn Martin
President Obama said Tuesday that there was "nothing new" in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress about Iran's nuclear program.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

President Obama said "there was nothing new" in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech on Iran to a joint meeting of Congress.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said, "the prime minister didn't offer any viable alternatives" to the possible deal being worked out with Iran on its nuclear program.

In Iran, the government called the Israeli leader's speech "boring and repetitive," according to Reuters, which quoted the state news agency IRNA.

Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, has a rundownof the reaction to the speech in that country.

The newspaper reported that opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who is hoping to unseat Netanyahu in the upcoming election, said: "Netanyahu knows how to deliver a speech, but [his] speech did not put a halt to a nuclear agreement and didn't influence it."

And Haaretz quoted Economy Minister Naftali Bennett as praising the speech, saying, "The Israeli people stand behind you."

The reaction to the speech in Congress was mostly along party lines.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she was "near tears" throughout the speech — "saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation."

P5 + 1 refers to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and Germany. They are the nations negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program.

But Democrat Brad Sherman, D-Calif., dismissed that claim.

"Every speech contains passages which remind the audience of facts they already know, and conclusions with which they already agree," he said. "That is not condescension; that is oratory."

Netanyahu, who views Iran as an existential threat to Israel, called a deal being negotiated with Iran "very bad."

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2016, said he was "pleased to hear Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress today, and join him in calling for peace and standing together for our mutual interests. It is important to work together to prevent a nuclear Iran, and the spread of Radical Islam."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another potential GOP presidential candidate, said on Twitter that Netanyahu's message was "powerful."

"Glad he addressed Congress & detailed the dangers a nuclear Iran poses," he said. "Their nuclear program must be stopped."

About 50 Democrats skipped Netanyahu's speech, including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who said House Speaker John Boenher's invitation to Netanyahu allowed "the floor of this chamber to be used to undercut the negotiations of the president of the United States." He said the move was "partisan — and it's not right."

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn,. said the speech was "harmful because, I think, the game is in Geneva — not in Washington and on television. It would have been better if he took his concerns directly to the president and the State Department, behind the scenes, and tried to get a better deal."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.