As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington Sunday ahead of his controversial address to Congress, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he didn’t want Netanyahu’s visit to turn “into some great political football.” Appearing on “This Week” on ABC, Kerry tried to tamp down the rhetoric surrounding Netanyahu’s upcoming speech, which has divided both political parties and the White House.
Netanyahu’s address, scheduled for Tuesday, was hashed out with House Speaker John Boehner without input from President Barack Obama. Congressional Democrats have called the upcoming speech inappropriate, in part because Israel’s elections are just two weeks away and Obama wasn’t consulted. Some Democrats said they would boycott the speech.
Kerry’s language was more reserved than the rhetoric from national security adviser Susan Rice, who called Netanyahu’s trip “destructive” to U.S.-Israeli relations.
“Obviously, it was odd, if not unique, that we learned of it from the speaker of the House and that an administration was not included in this process,” the secretary of state said. “But the administration is not seeking to politicize this.”
Kerry also fought back Republican criticism that the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to support Israel. “I was reviewing the record the other day. We have intervened on Israel's behalf, in the last two years, more than several hundred -- a couple of hundred times in over 75 different [forums] in order to protect Israel,” he said. “I talk to the prime minister regularly, including yesterday. We are not -- you know, we don't want to see this turned into some great political football.”
Netanyahu is expected to talk about the threat Israel faces from Iran, which is in talks with the the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China -- plus Germany regarding its nuclear program. The Israeli prime minister has said any deal that allows Iran to have nuclear power is unacceptable.
The speech has also divided Israelis, especially among those who believe the speech may damage the Jewish state's relationship with the U.S., the New York Times reported. Others said they think the speech was engineered by Netanyahu to improve his standing in the polls. About 200 former military and intelligence officials in Israel have called on Netanyahu to cancel the address, saying the speech will only further embolden Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.