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Netanyahu speech praised by most LI members of Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poses with U.S.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poses with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid prior to a meeting at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

WASHINGTON -- Hawkish members of Long Island's congressional delegation said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a persuasive case to Congress Tuesday that U.S.-led talks with Iran on its nuclear capabilities are leading to a "bad deal."

Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), Peter King (R-Seaford) and Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said they agreed with Netanyahu's complaint that the emerging deal "paves Iran's path to the bomb."

But Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), as well as both New York senators, said while they share Netanyahu's concerns about preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, they urged Congress to wait and see a final deal.

Congress must ensure any agreement "fully eliminates Iran's path to a nuclear weapon, or else we need to stand firm and hold Iran accountable by responding with aggressive sanctions," Rice said.

All members, though, said Netanyahu's 40-minute address to a joint session of Congress was powerful and an occasion to show strong bipartisan support for Israel, despite the controversy that has clouded it.

"It was the most powerful and significant speech I've seen by any foreign leader during the 22 years I have been in Congress," said King.

Nearly all New York Democrats turned out for the speech despite their party's complaints that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had politicized it by breaking protocol and inviting Netanyahu without telling the White House. Zeldin, Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Israel were on the committee that escorted Netanyahu to the House floor.

From Long Island, only Meeks was absent. He was traveling with Vice President Joe Biden in Guatemala and issued a statement from there. Meeks said he would have skipped the speech anyway to protest Boehner's handling of it. Biden's trip was timed to avoid the speech.

Rep. Israel, who said he has long been skeptical of the negotiations, agreed with Netanyahu's demand that Iran stop its aggression toward its neighbors, its export of terrorism and its threat to Israel.

"The deal must continue sanctions and restrict any nuclear program until Iran changes its behavior," he said.

King said he shares Netanyahu's complaint that it's dangerous to "allow Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure in place and have nuclear materials -- and allowing it to have such a short breakout window" to build a nuclear bomb if it reneges on a deal.

Zeldin reiterated Netanyahu's hard line that Iran's nuclear program mustn't be slowed but rolled back.

"Iran must not be permitted to enrich uranium, maintain their centrifuges and block access to weapons inspectors," Zeldin said. "America also should not make a slew of permanent concessions on our side in return for temporary concessions."

Schumer offered a nuanced reaction, calling the speech "powerful," especially in detailing Iran's acts of terrorism. "While the final details of the Iranian deal have not been disclosed, we must do everything we can to prevent a nuclear Iran," he said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said, "I have always believed that the best solution is a strong and verifiable diplomatic deal, but whether any deal is truly verifiable and achievable is a serious question that needs to be answered. I am hopeful a good deal can be made, and I have no doubt Congress will pass sanctions quickly if the right deal can't be reached."

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