WASHINGTON – US administration officials confirmed Wednesday that President Barack Obama will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House early next month. This will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two since the P5+1 interim agreement was signed in November with Iran, an agreement that has caused significant tension between the two administrations.
White House officials wrote in a statement that “he President looks forward to discussing with the Prime Minister progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, developments in Iran, and other regional priorities.” The statement confirmed earlier reports that the two will meet in Washington DC on March 3.
Netanyahu’s visit to Washington DC will coincide with AIPAC’s annual policy conference, and the prime minister is expected to address the over 10,000 participants on the day after his White House meeting.
After tense weeks in which American and Israeli administration officials railed against each other’s comments and policies over Iran and the Palestinian peace process, the White House statement emphasized that “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit is a demonstration of the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and our close consultations on a range of security issues.”
Earlier this week, Netanyahu suggested that Iran would take front and center in his efforts in Washington, with the peace talks with the Palestinians left playing second fiddle.
Although heated exchanges have emerged between Obama administration officials and Israeli ministers over the peace process, the March meeting is likely to focus on a deeper divide between the two heads of state: Obama believes that the interim agreement with Iran has decreased the chances for a nuclear Iran, while Netanyahu is concerned that it will allow Iran to buy time while still progressing toward nuclear breakout capacity.
The battle between the two has played out on Capitol Hill over the past two months. Obama has sent top-level envoys, including Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, to Congress to explain the utility of the agreement, and to argue that the sanctions regime against Iran remains intact. At the same time, AIPAC has lobbied hard for additional legislation to beef up sanctions against Iran if talks fail – legislation that Israel embraces and Obama passionately rejects.
Talks between the P5+1 member states and Iran are due to resume in Vienna next week. This will be the first round of talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement that the Obama administration claims will result in an Iran that cannot threaten Israel with nuclear annihilation.