Despite the rift between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. administration has no intention of boycotting the upcoming convention of America's leading pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, a senior administration official said over the weekend.
However, the official refrained from divulging the name or rank of the administration representative who will speak at the conference, though many believe it will be U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
The official's statements come in the wake of an AP report claiming the Obama administration is mulling ways "to undercut Netanyahu's upcoming trip to Washington and blunt his message that a potential nuclear deal with Iran is bad for Israel and the world."
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According to the report, some of the steps the administration is weighing include "a presidential interview with a prominent journalist known for coverage of the rift between Obama and Netanyahu," appearances by administration officials on Sunday talk shows to counter Netanyahu's allegations and sending a lower-rank representative to the AIPAC conference on March 1.
Though the White House refused to respond to the report, sources close to the administration called it "strange." They said that although the administration would not sit idly by in light of Netanyahu's actions, its response would not focus on symbolic media events. The sources viewed Israeli reports on the AIPAC boycott as "psychological warfare" waged by Netanyahu supporters in Jerusalem and in Washington, aimed at creating a divide between the Jewish community and the administration - and by doing so, boosting support for Netanyahu and his controversial Congress speech.
"Netanyahu has a difficult problem with Obama and with the administration," a source close to the White House said, "and now he's trying to turn it into a problem between the Jews and the Obama administration."
The source said that that though the administration has issues with AIPAC, in the context of the Congress speech it "differentiates between Netanyahu and the lobby, and does not see in the lobby as the main factor behind Netanyahu's invitation to Congress." Administration officials also denied reports of alleged pressure from the White House on Democratic Congressmen to skip Netanyahu's speech. "They don't need us to understand that this is something that is just not done, and a blatant demonstration of disrespect toward the president and his post."
The sources said that the administration's final position on the visit will be formulated toward the weekend, alongside the start of the round of talks with Iran in Geneva on Thursday. If we see there's a good chance for an agreement, they said, we will explain to the American public why this agreement is essential both for to national security of the U.S. and to the security of Israel, "and we'll see who does a better job convincing."