Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the United States Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on March 3, 2015. In the background are Republicans House Speaker John Boehner (L), who invited Netanyahu, and Senate Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch, who took the place of Democratic Vice President Joe Biden. In a divisive speech, Netanyahu argued against any deal with Iran on their nuclear capability as nuclear negotiations continue with the Obama administration and Iran in Geneva. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) -- In a much-anticipated speech before a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed deep concern over a potential nuclear deal with Iran, demanding the nation stop its aggression against Middle East neighbors.
Netanyahu also said Iran must stop its support for terrorism around the world and threats to annihilate the state of Israel before any nuclear agreement is reached.
"This deal won't change Iran for the better. It will only change the Middle East for the worse," Netanyahu said.
Possible negotiations between the U.S. and Iran involve centrifuge limits and increased inspections. As a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to embark on a peaceful nuclear program.
Any deal reached is set to expire in a decade, which Netanyahu said is too shortsighted.
He called a decade "a blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It is a blink of an eye in the lives of our children."
Iran has been entrenched in a debate over its nuclear program for years. It claims to be developing peaceful nuclear technology, but Israel and the U.S. suspect Iran may be trying to build a weapons program.
Iran has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction -- even vocally supporting Hamas during this summer's Gaza conflict -- thus raising concerns that if it were to attain a nuclear weapon, it would not hesitate to wipe the Jewish state off the map.
"The days when the Jewish people remain passive in the face of a genocidal regime, those days are over," Netanyahu said. "Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand."
Netanyahu's speech was met with echoing support within the House chamber.
Both the U.S. and Israel have worked to impede the Iranian nuclear program, and the U.S. has implemented sanctions. Yet the tide may be turning for the American-Iranian relationship.
President Barack Obama made it clear he wants to work with Iran, threatening action if Congress passes legislation he thinks will undermine the negotiations.
"I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress," the president said in his State of the Union address this year.
Netanyahu disagreed with the president's current negotiating plan.
"We've been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It's a very bad deal. We're better off without it."
Netanyahu also urged the U.S. to not get soft on Iran even in the face of the threat posed by ISIS.
"The enemy of your enemy is your enemy," he said. "Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam."
Netanyahu arrived in Washington Sunday afternoon to kick off this controversial visit. Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, conference Monday, he refuted claims that the trip is intended to be a political ploy.
House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu in late January to speak before Congress -- without consulting the White House.
"My speech is ... not intended to inject Israel into the American partisan debate," he said at the conference Monday. "An important reason why our [American-Israeli] alliance has grown stronger decade after decade is that it has been championed by both [American] parties and so it must remain."
Netanyahu reiterated this Tuesday, adding it was "never my intention" to be political.
Israeli parliamentary elections are also scheduled to take place in two weeks, sparking debate on whether Netanyahu is using Congress to promote his re-election campaign in Israel. According to a February 26 poll by Channel 10, a media outlet in Israel, Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party is second to the center-left Zionist Union.
"The president has said that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel can't just be reduced to a relationship between the Republican Party and the Likud Party," noted White House spokesman Josh Earnest recently aboard Air Force One.
Netanyahu drew further ire for arguing that he would come to Congress to speak for Jews around the world.
"...he doesn't speak for me on this. He doesn't at all speak for me on this... I think it's a rather arrogant statement," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Cal., said in an interview with CNN.
Still, Feinstein was present for the speech while several members of Congress, including Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, declined to attend the event.