President Barack Obama will not meet Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits the United States in early March, the White House said Thursday.
"The president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election," said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Thursday he would address the U.S. Congress in March, saying in a statement the invitation tendered by House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner was bipartisan.
But the move blindsided the Obama administration as House Republicans wasted no time retaliating for the president's call in the State of the Union Address not to impose sanctions on Iran. Boehner took it upon himself to invite Israel's prime minister to talk about the danger posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, The Washington Post reported
Netanyahu is expected to focus in his address, his third to Congress, on the Iranian nuclear issue. In his statement, Netanyahu said he was "honored to accept the invitation" and that would use the speech "to thank President Barack Obama, Congress and the American people for their support of Israel".
Boehner's move, a stark break with protocol regarding invitations issued to heads of states, comes against the backdrop of Senate hearings this week about imposing sanctions, according to Politico
The Netanyahu invitation shocked the White House, with senior administration officials saying they had no prior warning from Boehner or the Israelis, according to The Wall Street Journal
"We found out from Boehner's staff this morning — no heads up from the Israelis, and no discussion with Boehner's staff in advance either," said a senior administration official, according to the Journal.
In his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama issued a warning to Congress that it should not proceed with imposing sanctions on Iran on the premise that it would undermine the ongoing diplomatic negotiations with the country over halting its nuclear program.
"New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.
"It doesn't make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom," Obama said in his speech.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron last week also advised against sanctions during his visit to Washington, and reports said he personally met with a number of senators to plead the case, according to The Wall Street Journal
And a senior Israeli intelligence official told a congressional delegation that was visiting the country that new sanctions would be akin to "throwing a grenade into the process," Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Wednesday, according to the Post, though the Israeli Prime Minister is believed to think otherwise.
In a meeting with House colleagues, Boehner said that if the president "expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran," he will be disappointed, according to the Post. "Two words: Hell no!" Boehner said. "We're going to do no such thing."
"There is a serious threat that exists in the world, and the president, last night, kind of papered over it," Boehner said Wednesday, according to the Post. "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."
Iran has been engaged in efforts to acquire the capability to build nuclear weapons for more than two decades. It remains uncertain whether Tehran will buck the international community and start building nuclear weapons, but it has already developed a range of technologies, including uranium enrichment, warhead design, and delivery systems, that would enable the country to proceed at a fast rate should it decide to do so.
Tehran maintains that its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful, but various states have made failed efforts over the years to negotiate a settlement with Iran that limits its nuclear program.
Throughout 2014, the United Nations Security Council was in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Repeated deadlines have been missed or extended, the latest of which was a November 24 deadline which was extended because progress had been made that both sides wanted to build upon.
Both parties announced that they are aiming to reach a political agreement by March and then complete technical details by June 30.
New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez and Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk have proposed legislation that would impose sanctions should the talks fail.
Obama has put the chances of reaching a deal with Iran at only 50 percent, the Post reported, but has nonetheless vowed to veto any sanctions against Iran that Congress may pass.
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