Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he was determined to speak to a joint meeting of Congress on March 3, despite the ongoing uproar surrounding his planned address in the US capital.
“At a time when there are those who would deal with protocol and politics, an agreement with Iran is taking shape in Munich that would risk Israel’s existence,” Netanyahu said on Twitter, apparently referring to talks over the weekend in the German city between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
“Therefore, I’m determined to travel to Washington and present Israel’s position before Congress and the American people,” he said. “From the day the State of Israel was established, there have been substantive differences between Israel and the United States. Relations remained strong. That’s how it will be this time.”
In the address, Netanyahu is set to warn against a deal with Iran that would enable it to become a nuclear threshold state. The timing, arrangements and likely content of the speech have infuriated the Obama administration and some congressional Democrats. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the US House of Representatives speaker, invited Netanyahu without consulting with the White House, it later became clear. The prime minister indicated over the weekend that he believed the invitation had bipartisan support.
Earlier Monday, there were reports that Netanyahu was considering recalibrating the March 3 speech. According to Reuters, a source with inside knowledge of the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu was considering canceling the speech, or at least conducting it behind closed doors. This was later denied by the PMO.
The Obama administration said its top officials will not meet Netanyahu during his visit and a number of Democrats in Congress are saying they will stay away – most recently Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Va.), who is Jewish.
President Barack Obama, meeting Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reiterated his view that meeting Netanyahu two weeks before Israel’s March 17 election would be inappropriate.
“As much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation from the White House,” the president said before pausing and adding, “And I suspect she wouldn’t have asked for one.” Merkel vigorously nodded.
Obama said his views on Netanyahu’s speech were separate from disagreements between the governments on Iran.
Tehran is locked in negotiations with the P5+1 powers — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany — aimed at a deal to resolve a long-running dispute over its nuclear program. Under an interim deal, Iran’s stock of fissile material has been diluted from 20 percent enriched uranium to five percent in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
Boehner invited Netanyahu in part to rebut Obama’s claims that nuclear talks now underway between major powers and Iran are productive. Netanyahu, like many Republicans, believes the talks are headed for a bad deal.
The Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index, which polls security issues each month, reported this week that a majority of Israeli Jews – 57 percent – believe Netanyahu should not deliver the speech because of its proximity to the elections.