President Barack Obama will not meet with Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister travels to the United States to visit with Congress in March. A White House spokesperson cited “longstanding policy and principal” against meeting with world leaders who face upcoming elections as the onus behind the decision.
“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,” White House spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said, according to the Associated Press. Netanyahu is expected to lobby Congress on March 3 to support the imposition of renewed sanctions against Iran if an agreement cannot be reached to curb the nation’s nuclear program.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) extended an invitation to the Israeli prime minister without consulting the White House, leading to questions about a potential violation of diplomatic protocol. “The protocol would suggest that the leader of one country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling here,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday, according to Reuters. “This particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”
Iran and representatives from the United States and five other world powers have so far failed to reach an agreement to curb its nuclear program in exchange for a reduction to existing sanctions. U.S. and Iranian diplomats are scheduled to meet Friday and Saturday in Switzerland for renewed talks on the nuclear program. Iran has long said its nuclear program is energy-based, while Western and Israeli leaders have expressed concerns that Iran is in pursuit of nuclear weaponry.
The Obama administration has urged legislators on both sides of the aisle not to pursue renewed sanctions against Iran in the midst of ongoing negotiations. Congressional Republicans have expressed particular interest in taking aggressive action. Obama’s reluctance to impose sanctions has also caused tension with Netanyahu.
“In this time of challenge, I am asking the prime minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life,” Boehner said in a statement on Netanyahu’s upcoming visit, according to Reuters.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke out against Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu and the potential conflict of interest the visit would pose considering Israel’s upcoming elections. “If that’s the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit two weeks before his own election, right in the midst of our negotiations, I just don’t think it’s appropriate and helpful,” she said.