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Netanyahu on 'Historic Mission' to Stop Iran Nuclear Deal

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FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Jan. 4, 2015. Netanyahu is headed to Washington to give a controversial address to the U.S. Congress.

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Jan. 4, 2015. Netanyahu is headed to Washington to give a controversial address to the U.S. Congress.

Two days ahead of a controversial speech in Washington by Israel's prime minister, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is attempting to shore up the countries' relationship amid diplomatic friction.

"The prime minister of Israel (Benjamin Netanyahu) is welcome to speak in the United States, obviously, and we have a closer relationship with Israel right now in terms of security than in any time in history," Kerry told ABC television's This Week program.

Netanyahu arrived in Washington Sunday afternoon. Earlier in the day Netanyahu said he was on a "historic mission" to try to stop a nuclear deal with Iran. He is expected to address lawmakers in Washington Tuesday.

Break with tradition

He surprised Washington earlier this year by announcing a visit at the invitation of Speaker of the House John Boehner, breaking with historical protocol of coordinating with the White House.

The invitation by Republicans in Congress has divided Americans.

Nearly half surveyed said lawmakers should not have invited Netanyahu to speak without notifying the White House, according to a poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. Thirty percent of respondents thought the invitation was acceptable, while 22 percent were unsure.

Kerry called the deviation from protocol "odd, if not unique," but defended U.S. support for Israel. He said he had spoken with Netanyahu as recently as Saturday.

The State Department had announced the country's top diplomat would not be in Washington during Netanyahu's visit, as he heads to Switzerland for more talks with Iran's foreign minister.

"We are going to test whether or not diplomacy can prevent this weapon from being created, so you do not have to turn to additional measures including the possibility of a military confrontation," Kerry told ABC.

"Our hope is that diplomacy can work. And I believe, given our success of the interim agreement, we deserve the benefit of the doubt to find out whether or not we can get a similarly good agreement with respect to the future," he said.

The White House was angry that Boehner did not consult with it before extending the invitation to Netanyahu to speak to the lawmakers. Some Democratic lawmakers plan to boycott the Netanyahu speech on Tuesday.

Nuclear talks deadline

The P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany) are facing a June 30 deadline for a deal that cuts Iran's uranium enrichment program in exchange for lifting sanctions that have destroyed the Iranian economy.

On Saturday, the Israeli prime minister said he respects President Barack Obama and believes in strong ties with the United States, but opposed "the agreement being formulated with Iran and the major powers, which could endanger our (Israel's) very existence."

Netanyahu said the deal is too lenient with Tehran and will allow it to make a nuclear bomb that will endanger Israel, an accusation Washington denies.

Netanyahu made a rare pilgrimage to pray at the Western Wall, Jerusalem's holiest site, before his visit to Washington.

"As prime minister of Israel, it is my obligation to see to the security of Israel; therefore, we strongly oppose the agreement being formulated with Iran and the major powers, which could endanger our [Israel's] very existence," he said Saturday.

Iran insists it has no plans to build atomic weapons. It said its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful civilian purposes.

Scott Bobb contributed to this report from Jerusalem. Some material for this story came from AP, AFP and Reuters.

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