Netanyahu 'Determined to Address Congress'

Premier assures the Israeli public, detractors that Congress address will not harm US-Israel relations amid rumors of changes to event.

Tova Dvorin ,

Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin Netanyahu
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash 90

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday that he is determined to address Congress next month over Iran's nuclear program, brushing off US fears his intervention could derail talks with Tehran.

"I am determined to address Congress, that is why I decided to go to Washington and present Israel's position," Netanyahu told participants at an election event by his Likud party.

The White House has already reacted icily to the premier's speech, and it announced Friday that US Vice President Joe Biden would not attend the address.

President Barack Obama said he will not meet Netanyahu during his visit, which comes a few weeks before the prime minister seeks re-election. The speech before Congress is expected on March 3.

Obama's allies fear the trip could be used by Israel and by US Republicans, who control Congress and issued the invitation, to undercut ongoing nuclear talks with Tehran. 

The invite also sparked a debate within Democratic legislators whether or not to boycott the address, as well as American Jewish leaders urging Netanyahu to cancel

At home, several opposition officials in Israel have pleaded with Netanyahu to cancel the speech so as not to undermine the "special relationship" it has with the US.

But the Israeli leader brushed aside fears of a dispute, saying: "From the day Israel was established to this day, there have been essential differences between Israel and the US, and relations remained sound - this will be the case this time as well."

Despite this, Netanyahu has reportedly been discussing several alternative options to the address, including downscaling the event from a live speech to a closed-door session of Congress or even canceling the event altogether and addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in Washington instead. 

The Israeli public remains divided over the issue, with 47% believing that Netanyahu should cancel the event, but 34% believing it is "crucial" for him to go - and a full 19% abstaining from answering surveyors on the issue.