In first foreign trip as senator, Perdue sides with Netanyahu on Iran

Perdue’s visit to Israel last week came at a fraught time in U.S.-Israel relations. The Obama administration and international partners are negotiating a deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program, but Netanyahu believes it will be too soft and is always concerned about a government that wants to eliminate the Jewish nation.

In addition, Netanyahu plans to address Congress next week — a visit negotiated without the approval of the White House, which says it does not want to become involved with Israel’s March 17 election. Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta has said he does not plan to attend the speech, and activists in Atlanta and elsewhere are urging more members to skip.

Perdue will be there, and in an interview Tuesday he said he and Netanyahu are “like-minded” on the subject of Iran. Perdue criticized the apparent outline of a deal to halt the country’s nuclear enrichment for 10 years.

“Ten years is not acceptable in my view,” Perdue said. “It creates the opportunity that if we don’t dismantle their nuclear machinery and capability, that after 10 years they could still build a nuclear weapon. …

“It’s one of several things that have shifted the wrong way. Most of the negotiations that I’ve watched, most of the concessions have been on the part of the P5+1 (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) and not Iran. That gives me pause.”

Perdue, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress should have the opportunity to review and suggest changes for any deal. He said Senate leaders have been wise not to say publicly what they will do if nuclear talks fail by the March 31 deadline, but “I’ll assure you we’re prepared to move if we have to if this doesn’t work.”

The seven-day jaunt, Perdue said, was sponsored by the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC — which sends dozens of House members and senators to Israel each year. (A 2007 law prevents lobbyists from sponsoring trips for lawmakers, but AIPAC and other groups get around the law by forming spinoff nonprofits. In this case, it’s called the American Israel Education Foundation.)

Perdue met with other Israeli officials but also one of the lead negotiators for the Palestinians as they work toward a two-state solution, “which is what everybody’s hope is,” Perdue said. In addition, he met an entrepreneur who built a solar energy panel installation in Brunswick.

Perdue looked down into Syria from the Golan Heights and talked with residents near the Gaza Strip who had been hit with mortars.

“It was a great trip, but one that really prepares me to add value to this Foreign Relations Committee,” Perdue said.

No Georgia Democrats so far have publicly joined Lewis in saying they will not attend the speech. Liberal groups including Code Pink and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation have been trying to press their case with individual members.

Daniel Rice, 47, of Decatur is working with the Atlanta chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace to try to persuade more Georgia members to skip the speech, which Rice said is only “embroiling us in Israeli internal politics.”

Rice added, “It’s fundamentally manipulative in terms of trying to sell an agenda about Iran without taking into consideration what U.S. policy is and the negotiations that are taking place to try to come to a peaceful resolution.”