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Mar 4, 1:34 PM EST

Netanyahu says he gave 'practical alternative' to Iran deal


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Conflict in the Middle East

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday his speech to the U.S. Congress offered a "practical alternative" to a possible Iranian nuclear deal, while opinion polls showed his party received a slight bump following his address ahead of the country's March 17 election.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the Israeli leader had offered no viable alternative to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, saying "there was nothing new" in Netanyahu's speech Tuesday.

In a statement released after he landed in Israel, Netanyahu said the alternative deal he presented in Congress would make it harder for Iran to build a nuclear bomb.

"I proposed a practical alternative that through tougher restrictions would extend the breakout time, by years, that it would take Iran to reach a nuclear weapon if it decides to breach the agreement," he said.

He said his proposal also would maintain restrictions until Tehran stops "its sponsorship of terrorism around the world, its aggression against its neighbors and its calls for Israel's destruction."

He said he received "very encouraging" responses from Democrats and Republicans to his speech.

Netanyahu's contentious speech to Congress took place despite objections from the White House, aggravating his already-strained relations with Obama.

The West fears Iran could build an atomic bomb with its nuclear program. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany reached an interim accord over the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program in November 2013. Now, negotiators hope to reach a rough draft of a permanent deal by the end of March and a final agreement by June 30.

Wednesday night, a poll broadcast on Israel's Channel 10 showed Netanyahu's Likud party picking up two seats to 23, which puts it neck and neck with the dovish opposition, the Zionist Union. It surveyed 952 people with a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Another poll on Channel 2 had Likud increase from 22 to 23 seats with the Zionist Union maintaining a slight lead at 24. It surveyed 790 people with a 3.5 margin of error.

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