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Netanyahu accepts invitation to address US Congress

White House says request by House speaker a breach of protocol; PM to speak on threats posed by Iran and radical Islam

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 11, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Matthieu Alexandre)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 11, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Matthieu Alexandre)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accepted an invitation to address the US Congress next month on the threat posed by Iran and radical Islam.

Netanyahu was reportedly also exploring the possibility of meeting with President Barack Obama during his visit; however, the White House said the invitation by US Speaker of the House John Boehner came as a surprise to Obama’s staff and was a breach or protocol.

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 is scheduled to address the joint session of Congress on February 11, the date of the 36th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, marking the day the shah’s regime fell.

Shortly after news of the invitation to Netanyahu broke, the White House said it was a breach of normal diplomatic protocol.

Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the White House had not heard from Jerusalem about whether Netanyahu planned to speak to Congress. Earnest added that the Obama administration was reserving judgment about the invitation until it had a chance to speak to the Israelis about what Netanyahu might say.

He said typical protocol was that a country’s leader would contact the White House before planning to visit the United States. But Earnest said the White House hadn’t been given word of the invitation until Wednesday morning, shortly before Boehner announced it publicly.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington (photo credit: AP/File)
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington (photo credit: AP/File)

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.

Time is running out for the US to reach a deal with Iran, as bilateral talks between the representatives of both nations have been extended until July, with the goal of reaching a framework for a deal by the end of March. Both Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani face stiff opposition to negotiations from conservatives in their respective homelands. Moreover, a Republican victory in the 2016 presidential election would make renewed talks with Iran unlikely.

Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, said he’s worried that Iran is holding firm while the US, the European Union and the other international partners move closer to the Iranian point of view.

“Whether it’s the intelligence agencies in Israel or the people we deal with around the world, I have had no one yet say that Congress weighing in on this deal would do anything but strengthen the administration’s hand and help cause this process to come to fruition,” Corker said Tuesday.

US President Barack Obama delivers the State of The Union address on January 20, 2015, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: AFP/POOL/MANDEL NGAN)
US President Barack Obama delivers the State of The Union address on January 20, 2015, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: AFP/POOL/MANDEL NGAN)

Obama came out swinging last Friday, telling Congress he would veto any Iran sanctions bill that lands on his desk. “Hold your fire,” Obama told Congress while standing at the White House alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, who took the unusual step of calling US senators to lobby against a sanctions bill.

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 Iran.

AP contributed to this report.

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