Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu | Susan Rice | John Kerry | Congress speech

Netanyahu Declines Dems' Invite as WH Ramps Up Vitriol Ahead of March 3 Speech

Image: Netanyahu Declines Dems' Invite as WH Ramps Up Vitriol Ahead of March 3 Speech
(Debbie Hill/UPI/Landov)

Wednesday, 25 Feb 2015 01:39 PM

Tensions are mounting between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of his address to Congress next week to warn of the dangers imposed by a nuclear Iran.

Obama administration officials are stepping up their campaign of rhetoric against the visit on March 3, with Secretary of State Jon Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice taking swipes at the Israeli leader and his proposed speech on Capitol Hill.

But Netanyahu has fired back by abruptly declining an invite from two Democrat Senators, Richard Durban of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California, to address the party's caucus during a closed-door session.

The antagonism came to a head on Tuesday night when Rice denounced Netanyahu's trip to Washington to implore Congress to vote against a nuclear deal with Iran, saying the visit was "destructive of the fabric of the relationship" between Israel and the U.S.

On PBS' "Charlie Rose" show, Rice declared that until recent weeks, the two nations have always enjoyed a bipartisan relationship.

"By virtue of the invitation that was issued by the speaker, and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks in advance of his election is that on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship," she said.

Her comments were seen as the "the strongest public rebuke to date" by The New York Times.

Kerry also lashed out at Netanyahu, saying that the prime minister was jumping the gun by warning against any nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers, called P5+1, that would leave the Islamic Republic on the threshold of a creating an atomic bomb.

"Anybody running around right now, jumping in to say, 'well, we don't like the deal,' or this or that, doesn't know what the deal is," Kerry told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

"There is no deal yet. And I caution people to wait and see what these negotiations produce," he said.

President Barack Obama, Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, and the third-ranking House Democrat, South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, have indicated that they will not attend the speech.

Several rank-and-file Democrats have also vowed that they will not listen to Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress, including Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Gregory Meeks of New York.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who caucuses with Democrats, has also said he won't attend the Netanyahu event.

Twenty-three House Democrats, in fact, urged Boehner in a letter last week to postpone the controversial speech, saying that the speaker was "using a foreign leader as a political tool against" Obama.
 
Democrats are concerned that Netanyahu will use the address to try to persuade congressional Democrats and the public against supporting the administration's current talks with Iran said to be aimed at curtailing the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program.

Adding fuel to the fire was a recent invitation by Sens. Durbin and Feinstein to Netanyahu to speak privately to the Democrat caucus, possibly even hoping the prime minister would accept the offer instead of speaking to Congress.

The senators, who have criticized the circumstances surrounding Netanyahu's planned speech, said Boehner's invitation "threatens to undermine the important bipartisan approach toward Israel."

In a letter to Netanyahu, they wrote: "It sacrifices deep and well-established cooperation on Israel for short-term partisan points — something that should never be done with Israeli security and which we feel could have lasting repercussions."

But Netanyahu quickly rejected the invitation, saying that it would further create a false sense of bipartisanship.

"Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit," Netanyahu wrote in a letter to Durbin and Feinstein.

"I would, of course, be glad to address a bipartisan forum of senators behind closed doors on a future visit, as I have been privileged to do many times in the past."

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Tensions are mounting between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of his address to Congress next week to warn of the dangers imposed by a nuclear Iran.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Susan Rice, John Kerry, Congress speech
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2015-39-25
Wednesday, 25 Feb 2015 01:39 PM
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