Obama, Kerry Won't Meet Netanyahu During U.S. Visit Due to Proximity to Israeli Election

The prime minister's invitation to speak before Congress was not coordinated with the White House; Netanyahu also to participate in AIPAC conference in Washington.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Obama and Netanyahu during the U.S. president's visit in Israel, March 20, 2013.
Obama and Netanyahu during the U.S. president's visit in Israel, March 20, 2013.Credit: Bloomberg
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The White House announced on Thursday that President Barack Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the latter visits the U.S. in March to speak before Congress.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will also forgo meeting with Netanyahu, a spokeswoman for the State Department told Reuters.

The White House cited the proximity of the Israeli election to Netanyahu's visit, and the desire to refrain from interfering in the election.

"As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections," said National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan, adding that "the President has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community. The President has had many conversations with the Prime Minister on this matter, and I am sure they will continue to be in contact on this and other important matters.”

On Wednesday, in a move that was not coordinated with the White House or Obama, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress - a move that was viewed as an attempt by Republican congressional leaders to intervene in the upcoming Israeli election in Netanyahu's favor.

Boehner said Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will now address Congress on March 3, just two weeks before the upcoming Israeli election.

Boehner confirmed on his Twitter account that Netanyahu wanted to coordinate his speech with the pro-Israel AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C. The Prime Minister's Office confirmed that Netanyahu had asked the Speaker to postpone his speech until the later date.

The Prime Minister's Office stated that Netanyahu accepted Boehner's invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress. "The Prime Minister is expected to travel to the U.S. in early March, and also to participate in the AIPAC conference," read the PMO's message. Netanyahu's office stressed that the invitation was made in the name of the bipartisan leadership within the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"Speaking before both houses of Congress will allow for the prime minster to thank President Obama, Congress, and the American people for supporting Israel," added the Prime Minister's Office. Netanyahu himself said that his invitation to Congress "reflects the special friendship between Israel and the U.S., as well as the strong bipartisan support for Israel throughout the U.S."

A large group of congressmen and senators, mostly from the Republican Party, are trying to promote legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran, while the world powers are negotiating with Iran in an attempt to reach a settlement.

Also on Wednesday, reports surfaced that Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told a group of U.S. senators that he opposes further sanctions on Iran, claiming that they would disrupt the ongoing talks. This stance starkly opposes that of Netanyahu, and on Thursday, Pardo issued a statement, through the Prime Minister's Office, denying the report.

President Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday that if legislation like this is passed by Congress, he would veto it.

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