Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington for talks Monday at the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama, in their first meeting since world powers and Iran reached a nuclear agreement strongly opposed by Israel.
Even before the nuclear deal was clinched in July, Netanyahu was stressing why he felt it was a "bad deal" in an unprecedented speech before the U.S. Congress.
“My friends, for over a year, 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," he said in his March 3 address.
Netanyahu spoke at the invitation of then-Republican House Speaker John Boehner, as the Obama administration worked to hammer out the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran.
Obama defends nuclear deal
Obama did not meet with Netanyahu during that U.S. visit, citing the impending election in Israel. But less than a month after the Iran deal was reached, he offered a counter to Netanyahu's concerns in an August 5 speech at American University.
"A nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America, and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief," Obama said. “I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees, disagrees strongly. I do not doubt his sincerity. But I believe he is wrong."
In Jerusalem Sunday, Netanyahu said his upcoming meeting with Obama will focus on "strengthening the security" of Israel in the wake of the nuclear deal.
Netanyahu told his Cabinet that the United States has always been committed to preserving Israel’s “qualitative edge” amid the changing balance of power in the Middle East.
The nuclear agreement severely strained relations between Israel and the U.S., with Netanyahu charging that it would not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons that could threaten the existence of the Jewish state.
In the wake of that perceived threat, Netanyahu wants compensation from America.
He said Israel is seeking a significant increase in U.S. military aid over the next decade. The current annual U.S. aid package to Israel stands at $3 billion, and officials say Netanyahu hopes to get that raised to $4 or $5 billion each year.
The two leaders will also discuss six weeks of Israeli-Palestinian violence that have raised fears of a major conflict. While an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has evaded President Obama during his two terms, he and Netanyahu will discuss ways to ease tensions on the ground.
The visit also comes amid a dispute over the Israeli prime minister’s new spokesman, Ron Baratz. In a posting on Facebook, Baratz said Obama's response to Netanyahu's last visit "is what modern anti-semitism looks like in Western liberal countries." He also said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old.
The State Department called the comments “troubling and offensive,” and claimed that Netanyahu has promised to “review” the appointment.
In a new Facebook post, Baratz apologized for the “hurtful remarks” he posted and said he was sorry he had not informed Netanyahu in advance about them.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said he wouldn't expect the issue to come up when the two leaders meet in the Oval Office Monday morning.
VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande and Smita Nordwall contributed to this report.