House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the US Congress in Washington next month is a breach of normal diplomatic protocol, the White House said in a statement Wednesday.
President Barack Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the White House had not officially heard from Israel whether Netanyahu does indeed plan to speak to Congress on February 11. Speaking to reporters traveling aboard Air Force One to Idaho, Earnest stated that the White House was reserving judgment about the invitation, adding that he had not heard about Boehner’s invitation until Wednesday morning, shortly before the speaker announced it publicly.
Earnest stressed that typical protocol dictates that a country’s leader should contact the White House before planning to visit the United States.
Netanyahu on Wednesday accepted the invitation to address the US Congress next month on the threat posed by Iran and radical Islam. The prime minister was also exploring the possibility of meeting with President Barack Obama during his visit, Reuters reported.
“We haven’t heard from the Israelis directly about the trip at all,” Earnest said. “The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he is travelling there. That is certainly how President Obama’s trips are planned. So this particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said Netanyahu was welcome to give a speech at “any time” in the United States, but he echoed Earnest in saying it had been a “little unusual” to hear about the prime minister’s address to the US Congress from Boehner and not via the usual diplomatic protocols.
Boehner said the “invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of [the Israeli] people.”
In a statement posted on his website, Boehner said he had asked Netanyahu to comment on the threats stemming from radical Islam as well as the Iranian regime.
“Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again,” he wrote.
Netanyahu’s address is scheduled on the date of the 36th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, marking the day the shah’s regime fell.
The speech invitation comes as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is working on legislation that would allow Congress to weigh in by allowing it to take an up-down vote on any deal the Obama administration reaches with Tehran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. A committee hearing on Wednesday will focus on the status of the negotiations and the role of Congress.
Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful and exists only to produce energy for civilian use, while both Israel and the US maintain that the regime is attempting to produce atomic weapons.
Netanyahu has advocated for Washington to levy more sanctions on Iran in order to pressure it to relinquish entirely its uranium enrichment program, a stance that has put him at loggerheads with Obama, who has said some enrichment should be allowed Tehran.
Ilan Ben Zion and AFP contributed to this report.