JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the visiting British foreign secretary sparred publicly Thursday over the international nuclear deal with Iran, veering off prepared comments to exchange sharply different positions toward the agreement.
Netanyahu and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond each read from their notes before engaging in an awkward back-and-forth that extended what is usually a standard, brief public appearance with visiting officials into a spirited debate.
The spat reflected how Israel, which has long lobbied against the deal, stands at odds with the world powers over the agreement, especially because it doesn't require Iran to temper its hostility toward Israel or rein in support for some of Israel's enemies, including the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group.
"We would have wanted to see a deal that says the following: 'Iran, you will get the easing on the restrictions on your nuclear program, and you will get sanctions relief if you change your behavior first,'" Netanyahu said, calling it "perplexing" that the deal does not address Iran's calls to annihilate Israel.
Hammond said he understood Netanyahu's concerns, but added "We have always been clear that this deal was about the nuclear file."
He said Iran's "regional conduct" will "have to be dealt with in the months and years to come," telling Netanyahu "We are not naive about this."
Getting in the last word, Netanyahu also spelled out his opposition to the gradual lifting of sanctions against Iran, which he told Hammond would allow Iran to foment "more terrorism, more aggression," in the Middle East and beyond.
Hammond was visiting Israel a day after he told the British Parliament that Israel wants a "permanent standoff" with Iran and suggested it wouldn't have welcomed any kind of nuclear deal.
Netanyahu told Hammond that assessment was "wrong."