Two American Democratic senators invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to meet with lawmakers from their party during his upcoming visit to Washington, where he plans to give a controversial speech to Congress opposing the White House on Iran.
Senators Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) wrote in a letter to Netanyahu that their intention in calling for the meeting was to “maintain Israel’s dialogue with both political parties in Congress,” Reuters reported.
The prime minister accepted an invitation last month from Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the US House of Representatives, to address Congress, but the White House complained that Boehner had not cleared the invitation with Obama or Democrats in Congress.
“This unprecedented move threatens to undermine the important bipartisan approach towards Israel — which as long-standing supporters of Israel troubles us deeply,” the senators wrote to Netanyahu, and warned that the upheaval over the address could turn Israel’s security into a partisan issue.
“It sacrifices deep and well-established cooperation on Israel for short-term partisan points — something that should never be done with Israeli security and which we fear could have lasting repercussions,” they wrote.
Netanyahu’s speech is controversial because it puts Israel on a collision course with the Obama administration as it negotiates with Iran over its nuclear program, negotiations that Netanyahu says put Israel at risk. The speech is also set just two weeks before the prime minister faces elections back home.
Netanyahu insisted last week that the political furor over his upcoming speech should not cloud the issue of the looming nuclear deal between world powers and Iran that, in his opinion, will fail to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons.
A number of Jewish groups have said the visit is unwise and have called on Netanyahu and Boehner to postpone it at least until after Israel’s March 17 elections. Some Democratic lawmakers have said they will not attend the speech
Durbin, of Illinois, who is the assistant Democratic leader, and Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have not said if they will attend the speech, but an aide noted that the proposed meeting was not intended to be an alternative to Netanyahu’s address. There was no immediate response from the Israeli embassy to their invitation.
Earlier this month Durbin told CBS’s Face The Nation that he opposes the speech.
“I don’t think this political grandstanding by the speaker and Mr. Netanyahu is in the best interest of Israel,” he said, calling the event a “mistake.”
Netanyahu intends to argue before Congress on March 3 that the international community should increase its pressure on Iran, rather than ease sanctions against it under the terms of an emerging nuclear deal.
Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — known as the P5+1 — have been seeking a comprehensive accord that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb, in return for an easing of economic sanctions.
The cut-off point for the technical details of such an accord is June 30.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.