Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said this morning that by the time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a joint session of Congress, lawmakers should have their Iran sanctions game plan in place.
Corker went to Israel a few days ago “to sit down with him and also sit down with Mossad, who’s their intelligence agency, in closely monitoring these negotiations,” he told CNN.
“And my guess is by the time that he comes Congress may be in sync as to what it wants to do. So I don’t know that he’ll be necessarily going against the president. There’s a lot that’s occurring,” Corker said.
“But I do know this, he’s incredibly concerned about a bad deal with Iran, very concerned about where these negotiations are going. And what appears to be happening is Iran has sort of been here, we started here, the P-5, and every day that goes by it seems that we move closer and closer to the Iran place. And that’s why Congress, again, wants to be that firm backstop. And I think he supports this, to keep the P-5 from going to a place that’s really bad for our nation.”
The chairman said he was “made aware” of the invitation, though it’s House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) call.
“I think what you’ve seen happening is the president’s been irresponsible in the way that he has dealt with Congress and continued to basically act as if it’s his way or the highway,” Corker said. “I don’t know if that’s what’s driving the leadership in this particular direction.”
Boehner said in a statement Wednesday that Netanyahu “is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people.”
“In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life,” Boehner continued. “Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.”
Netanyahu’s address is scheduled for Feb. 11. He previously addressed Congress in 1996 and 2011.
“With respect to the prime minister and his visit here, look, we welcome the prime minister of Israel to come and speak in America anytime,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday. “And obviously, it’s a little unusual to learn of an invitation from the speaker’s office. That said, everybody knows that the subject of Iran is much on people’s minds. We have no difference in our goal with respect to our position.”
“We may have – we do have some difference in tactics of how you achieve that goal,” Kerry added. “But we are determined that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, and the key to our negotiations is to make certain that whatever is agreed upon will show people with clarity that that is, in fact, the case that the path to a nuclear weapon is not achievable and/or has been given up or both together, and that it can be verified. And that is obviously critical.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told CNN that she “will let others be the judge of what’s appropriate or not” in the Netanyahu invitation. “It’s certainly unusual.”
“Obviously, we have a close relationship with Israel. We heard, as you know and have reported on from Speaker Boehner, not from Israel, about plans for the prime minister to come here. He has come before, many times before. Many prime ministers have come before,” Psaki said. “So it was a little — it was a bit of an episode of the bizarre today seeing all of this unfold.”
Psaki was asked if Kerry was “irritated” by Boehner’s move.
“Well, he doesn’t get irritated that easily, as you know. You know him pretty well,” Psaki replied. “I think he’s focused on lots of issues we work with Israel on, whether it’s security or the tensions on the ground. He is keeping his eyes on those balls. He is not particularly worried about the protocol of when someone is told they are coming to speak here. He thought it was a little unusual, too.”