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Kerry tries to dampen fuss over Israeli PM’s speech

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday tried to calm tensions with Israel before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s congressional address, yet insisted the Obama administration’s diplomatic

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pauses before praying at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem's Old City, on Saturday. (Marc Sellem/The Associated Press)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pauses before praying at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on Saturday. (Marc Sellem/The Associated Press)

record with Iran entitles the United States to “the benefit of the doubt” as negotiators work toward a long-term nuclear deal. On a mission to warn of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, the prime minister arrived in Washington for the speech the White House didn’t want him to give.

Kerry said in an interview broadcast before he arrived in Switzerland for talks with Iran’s foreign minister that Netanyahu was welcome to speak in the United States 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 Kerry mentioned that he talked to Netanyahu as recently as Saturday.

But 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 the Islamic Republic.

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.

“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,” Kerry told ABC’s “This Week.”

Netanyahu will press his opposition to a diplomatic accommodation of Iran’s program in his speech Tuesday to Congress. “We are not here to offend President Obama whom we respect very much,” a Netanyahu adviser said. “The prime minister is here to warn, in front of any stage possible, the dangers” of the deal that may be taking shape.

The invitation to speak to Congress extended by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Netanyahu’s acceptance have caused an uproar that has exposed tensions between Israel and the United States, its most important ally.

By consenting to speak, 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,” Netanyahu said before flying to Washington.

Boehner said Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a threat well beyond the region. “We’re not going to resolve this issue by sticking our heads in the sand,” Boehner told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

He said Netanyahu “can talk about this threat, I believe, better than anyone. And the United States Congress wants to hear from him, and so do the American people.”

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