Obama, Netanyahu make dueling appeals on Iran to US Jews

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made dueling appeals to the American Jewish community Tuesday as they sought to rally support for their opposing positions on the Iranian nuclear deal.

Netanyahu made his case in a live webcast with more than 10,000 participants, according to the U.S. Jewish groups that organized the event. The prime minister railed against the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief, calling it a “bad deal” that leaves Tehran on the brink of a bomb.

“The nuclear deal with Iran doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb,” he said. “It actually paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”

Netanyahu, one of the fiercest critics of the nuclear accord, also disputed Obama’s assertion that opponents of the diplomatic deal favor war. He called that assertion “utterly false,” saying Israel wants peace, not war.

Obama held a private meeting at the White House later Tuesday with Jewish leaders – some who support the deal, some who oppose it, and others whose organizations are undecided. The White House said Obama emphasized that the deal would allow the world to verify that Iran wasn’t acquiring a nuclear weapon and affirmed his support for Israel’s security.

Among the roughly two-dozen leaders joining Obama in the Cabinet Room were Michael Kassen and Lee Rosenberg of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is vehemently opposed to the deal, as well as Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, who is among the deal’s most vocal proponents. The White House said representatives from the Orthodox Union, the Reform Movement, the World Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League also attended.

The direct appeals from Obama and Netanyahu come amid an intense lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers plan to vote on the nuclear deal next month. The vote will be one of Congress’ most significant national security decisions in recent years.

The White House is preparing for the likelihood that lawmakers will vote against the deal and is focusing its lobbying efforts on getting enough Democrats to sustain a veto. Only one chamber of Congress is needed to sustain a veto.

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the White House is confident it can sustain a veto “at least in the House.”

The president got a boost in the Senate Tuesday with Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida announcing their support for the deal. However, the administration lost the backing of three prominent Jewish Democrats – New York Reps. Steve Israel and Nita Lowey and Florida Rep. Ted Deutch.

Obama also planned to give a speech Wednesday outlining what he sees as the strengths of the nuclear deal.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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