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Obama dismisses Netanyahu's Congress speech as 'theater'

US President Barack Obama has given short shrift to Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu's Congress speech deriding an emerging nuclear deal with Iran. Obama claimed the agreement was the best option.

The US president responded with apparent exasperation to Netanyahu's speech to Congress, in which the Israeli prime minister warned that a nascent nuclear agreement with Tehran "paves Iran's path to the bomb."

Netanyahu had torn into the White House's proposed agreement with Iran, claiming it was "a very bad deal" and a threat to Israel's survival.

However, the president, who had a video conference on Ukraine scheduled at the time of the speech, flatly dismissed the Israeli leader's argument and repeated that he had offered no alternative.

"I am not focused in the politics of this. I am not focused on the theater," Obama said. "As far as I can tell, there was nothing new."

"On the core issue, which is how to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon which would make it far more dangerous, the prime minister did not offer any viable alternatives."

Netanyahu's speech was well-received by a number of Republicans in the House, who offered the Israeli leader several standing ovations.

Democrat House leader 'saddened'

But while the invitation to speak was extended by Speaker of the House John Boehner, there was consternation among some who claimed Netanyahu had violated diplomatic protocol by not consulting the White House.

More than four dozen of Obama's Democrats in the House and the Senate has said in advance that they would not attend the speech.

Schweiz Atomgespräche USA - Iran in Montreux

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting his Iranian opposite number Javad Zarif in Switzerland

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, appeared uneasy throughout the speech and later said she had been "saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States," concerning the threat posed by Iran.

Framework agreement planned

Washington has called on Tehran to commit to a freeze on development of its nuclear program for at least ten years.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Switzerland to work on an international framework agreement that could be completed later this month.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini - also involved in the negotiations - on Tuesday also warned against "spreading fears" about a deal with Iran, claiming this was "not helpful at this stage."

The Israeli leader's appeal to Congress came two weeks ahead of a tough general election for him at home. According to protocol ahead of national elections, he was never scheduled to meet Obama on the Washington trip.

rc/bw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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