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Obama Won't Meet with Netanyahu During Visit to Congress

White House Has Cool Reaction to Congress’ Invitation to Netanyahu
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White House Has Cool Reaction to Congress’ Invitation to Netanyahu

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American officials last week said President Barack Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits Washington in March. The U.S. Congress has asked the Israeli leader to speak to a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. House Speaker John Boehner said he did not contact the Obama administration about the visit before inviting Mr. Netanyahu.

Many observers see the invitation as a way for Republican Party lawmakers to criticize the administration’s policy toward Iran.

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu do not agree on the best way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Mr. Netanyahu has questioned Mr. Obama’s support of international talks to limit Iran’s nuclear activities.

With the nuclear talks set to re-start in February, some U.S. congressional leaders also are growing impatient. House Speaker Boehner surprised many by inviting the Israeli leader to speak to Congress, as he said, about the threats of Iran’s nuclear program and Islamic extremists.

“I did not consult with the White House. The Congress can make this decision on its own. I don’t believe I’m poking anyone in the eye. There is a serious threat that exists in the world.”

A presidential spokesman said Mr. Obama will not meet with Mr. Netanyahu because of Israeli elections, which are set for later in March.

House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi also questioned the timing of the visit.

“This presentation will take place within two weeks of the election in Israel. I don’t think that is appropriate for any country.”

Secretary of State John Kerry sought to play down what many see as congressional criticism of President Obama.

"We welcome the prime minister of Israel to come and speak in America any time. Obviously, it is a little unusual to learn of an invitation from the speaker's office."

Representative Pelosi says the president has a plan to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. She also says Congress needs to hold off on proposed votes to take new steps designed to punish Iran.

“It ((negotiations)) may or may not succeed. But we cannot have it fail because Congress wants to flex its muscle unnecessarily.”

But Senator Robert Menendez, a leading Democratic Party lawmaker, disagrees.

"Iran needs to know that there will be consequences for failure - now some of us believe those consequences should be additional sanctions.”

Steve Billet is with George Washington University. He says Congress has a part in shaping U.S. foreign policy. But he says congressional involvement could make efforts to negotiate a diplomatic settlement more complex.

“I’m not quite sure how all of this plays out when it comes to the negotiations - it’s clearly a confounding variable for the people who are involved in the negotiations to have these particular issues overhanging the negotiations.”

The foreign secretaries of the European Union, Germany, France and Britain wrote a piece for The Washington Post newspaper. It said any additional restrictions on Iran now would harm international efforts at a critical moment. The officials appealed to everyone to give diplomacy a chance.

I’m Caty Weaver.

VOA Capitol Hill Correspondent Cindy Saine reported this story from Washington. George Grow wrote it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

joint - adj. shared by two or more

policy - n. an established set of plans or goals used to develop and make decisions in politics, economics or business

best - adj. the most good

nuclear - adj. of or about the energy produced by splitting atoms or bringing them together; of or about weapons that explode by using energy from atoms