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Israeli opposition leader calls Netanyahu's Congress speech "spin" ahead of national election

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JERUSALEM — Israel's opposition leader said Tuesday that the upcoming speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.S. Congress warning against an emerging nuclear deal with Iran is "spin" aimed at political gain at home ahead of March elections.

Labor Party chief Issac Herzog said "no Israeli leader will ever accept a nuclear Iran" but the way Netanyahu voices his concerns is for "his political interest."

Herzog is competing against Netanyahu in the March 17 election as part of a center-left coalition called the Zionist Union.

Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to address Congress on Iran next week. The speech angered the Obama administration because it was arranged without consulting the White House, a breach of protocol.

The planned speech has drawn fire in Israel as well, coming just two weeks before national elections. Netanyahu has rejected the criticism, saying it is his duty to lobby against the nuclear deal.

PHOTO: Israel's Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog listens during a press conference in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. Herzog said the upcoming speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.S. Congress on Iran is "spin" ahead of March elections. Herzog is competing against Netanyahu in the March 17 election. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Israel's Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog listens during a press conference in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. Herzog said the upcoming speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.S. Congress on Iran is "spin" ahead of March elections. Herzog is competing against Netanyahu in the March 17 election. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

Herzog told reporters Tuesday that Israel should work closely with the U.S to resolve disputes over Iran rather than butting heads. He accused Netanyahu of using the visit for domestic political gain.

"I think part of it all is spin that has to do with his own political interest rather than dealing directly with the most important issue of how do you make sure that there is no daylight between us and the American administration on the exact prerequisites of a deal, how do we make sure that there is an iron-clad agreement or a good agreement and how do we define a bad agreement, and moreover how do we work in trust and confidence together in order to change the situation," Herzog said.

"Let's be frank about it, Iran is the most dangerous rogue nation in the world," he added.

In a statement Tuesday, Netanyahu said it was his "obligation as prime minister to do everything that I can to prevent this agreement," including speaking at Congress. He said Congress will "likely be the final brake before the agreement."

He called the emerging deal "a bad agreement that endangers our future," warning it will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state and effectively give it "a license to develop the production of bombs."

The Obama administration has said the negotiations aim for a deal that will ensure Iran cannot develop a weapon. Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence, citing Tehran's repeated calls for Israel's destruction, its long-range missile program and its support for violent anti-Israel groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran insists its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes like power generation and medical isotopes.

Iran reached a landmark interim nuclear deal with world powers in November 2013 under which it converted or diluted its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium. It is negotiating a final deal with the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, with the two sides hoping to agree on a preliminary deal in March and a follow-up pact in June.

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