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WASHINGTON– Three members of the Maryland congressional delegation agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the importance of the American-Israeli alliance after Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress.
But they didn’t comment directly on Netanyahu’s warning that the nuclear talks between the United States and Iran could lead to a “bad deal” that would actually enable a nuclear Iran.
Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday morning came as Secretary of State John Kerry attends negotiations in Geneva with Iran to restrict its nuclear program.
“For over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal,” Netanyahu said. “Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.”
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville; Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, and Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac, welcomed the opportunity to hear from the Israeli leader.
“I thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for addressing Congress and further bringing to light the threat that Iran poses to freedom and security around the world,” Harris said in a statement. “I believe we need to work with Israel and our allies to take a stand and that all efforts should be made to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities.”
“I appreciated hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sober description of the threat posed by Iran. Israel is one of our closest and most important allies,” Sarbanes said in a statement. “Working together on a bipartisan basis, I believe we must take the necessary steps to ensure that Iran does not achieve nuclear weapon capacity.”
“I attended Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address because I believed that it was important to hear what he had to say,” Delaney said in a statement. “The alliance between the United States and Israel is more important than ever. The unfortunate politicization of this event cannot get in the way of maintaining bipartisan support for Israel.”
Netanyahu’s appearance became a political maelstrom in the weeks leading up to the speech, eliciting controversy over international protocol.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited the Israeli leader without first informing President Barack Obama.
The White House has said it prefers not to host foreign leaders before their local elections. Israel will have elections March 17 where Netanyahu’s Likud Party faces tougher than expected competition.
More than 50 Democratic lawmakers did not attend the speech, including Rep. Donna Edwards of Fort Washington, who cited the wishes of her constituents as a reason not to attend.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, also didn’t attend. “The Congressman was detained by a pressing family matter in his district and he was not able to be on the Hill until this afternoon,” his office said in a statement.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, was on the fence previously about attending, but decided Monday to attend. All other members of the delegation attended as well.
Netanyahu began his speech by apologizing for the controversy surrounding his appearance.
“I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political,” he said. “That was never my intention.”
Netanyahu warned about Iran developing nuclear weapons, calling it one of “the greatest dangers facing our world.”
To that end, he criticized the deal that the United States is pursuing with Iran.
“It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb,” he said. “It paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
He also said that no deal is an alternative to a bad deal, and he encouraged negotiators to walk away from a bad deal.
“Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true,” he said. “The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal.”
Obama responded Tuesday afternoon at the White House and said if he signs a deal, it will be a good deal.
“And what I can guarantee is that if it’s a deal I’ve signed off on, I will be able to prove that it is the best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.
Outside the Capitol, Jewish men from Neturei Karta International, of Monsey, N.Y., a group of Jews against Zionism, gathered to protest Netanyahu’s speech.
“Israel is not a Jewish state,” the crowd chanted, waving Palestinian and American flags. “Judaism yes, Zionism no.”
Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss was among those protesting.
“This flies in the face of my religion,” Weiss said. “Sending Netanyahu to Congress is a push that they should continue down this path of hate and animosity toward Iran.”
Alicia McElhaney contributed to this article.