President Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits Washington this March, due to the proximity of his trip to the Israeli elections, the White House said today.
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“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan announced today. “Accordingly, the president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.”
Shortly after the president delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night, House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of Congress -- a move widely perceived to rebut the president’s repeated threat to veto new sanctions against Iran because they could disrupt ongoing "delicate" nuclear negotiations.
Boehner told reporters that he did not consult the White House before inviting Netanyahu, but he has denied that the move was intended to provoke the president.
"The Congress can make this decision on its own. I don't believe I'm poking anyone in the eye,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday. “There is a serious threat that exists in the world and the president, last night, kind of papered over it. And the fact is, is that there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran.”
The Iran nuclear issue has caused apparent tension in the Obama-Netanyahu relationship for years.
Meehan noted that Obama “has had many conversations with the prime minister on [the Iran nuclear issue], and I am sure they will continue to be in contact on this and other important matters.”
The address will now occur March 3, though Boehner originally invited Netanyahu to come to the Capitol on Feb. 11. The prime minister requested to delay the trip a few weeks in order to have his address coincide with a previously planned visit to Washington. The White House was not consulted ahead of time, breaking a protocol traditionally extended from the legislative leaders to the president.
Recalling that the top four congressional leaders traditionally build consensus before looping in the executive branch, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also called Boehner’s invitation “out of the ordinary ... without any bipartisan consultation.”
“I don't think that's appropriate for any country, that the head of state would come here within two weeks of his own election in his own country,” said Pelosi, D-California. She added that if building a case for sanctions against Iran is the purpose of Netanyahu's visit “I just don't think it's appropriate and helpful.”