President Obama won’t meet with Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli Prime Minister comes to the U.S. in March to speak before both chambers of Congress -- and likely voice support for increased sanctions against Iran that the White House opposes.
Citing “long-standing practice and principle,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Thursday that the administration does not meet with heads of state or candidates in “close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country.”
That means Obama won’t meet with Netanyahu, who is up for reelection on March 17, two weeks after his planned address to Congress, Meehan said.
The latest diplomatic kerfuffle in the already-strained relationship comes as Obama has threatened to veto congressional efforts to ratchet up sanctions against Iran, saying they could undermine ongoing talks and divide the international community. Netanyahu, who has sharply criticized the negotiations as a “historic mistake,” said they’ve done nothing to roll back Tehran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Observers expect him to endorse stricter sanctions in his address.
Meehan noted Obama has been clear about his opposition to new sanctions and has had “many conversations” with Netanyahu on the matter.
“I am sure they will continue to be in contact on this and other important matters,” Meehan said. Obama has met and talked with Netanyahu more than any other world leader, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, predicting Obama would “surely meet soon after the next Israeli elections with the winner.”
House Speaker John Boehner extended the invite, which the administration called a breach of protocol on Boehner and Netanyahu’s part because the White House is traditionally first notified of a foreign leader’s visit.
“The well established protocol is that the leader of a foreign country would be in touch with the leader of this country about a possible visit. That didn’t occur yesterday,” Earnest said.
Boehner’s office informed the White House about the invitation yesterday, Earnest said.
France’s minister of foreign affairs and international development, Britain’s foreign secretary, Germany’s federal minister for foreign affairs and the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy argued against new sanctions in a Washington Post column, saying “introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture.”
Obama and a visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron last week jointly called on Congress to forgo a new sanctions bill. (Cameron faces election in May -- presumably not within the administration’s definition of “close proximity.”)
Secretary of State John Kerry also will not meet with Netanyahu, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, citing the upcoming election.