President Obama said today that it’s important for “protocols” to be kept in place regarding the U.S. visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “because the U.S.- Israeli relationship is not about a particular party.”
At a White House press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama was asked: “Some have suggested you are outraged by the Israeli prime minister’s decision to address Congress. Is that so? And how would you advise Democrats who are considering a boycott?”
“As I’ve said before, I talk to him all the time. Our teams constantly coordinate. We have a practice of not meeting with leaders right before their elections, two weeks before their elections,” Obama replied.
“As much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation to the White House, and I suspect she wouldn’t have asked for one.”
There was some laughter in the room.
“So, you know, this is just — you know, some of this just has to do with how we do business, and I — I — I think it’s important for us to maintain these — these — these protocols, because the U.S.- Israeli relationship is not about a particular party. This isn’t a relationship founded on affinity between the Labor Party and the Democratic Party or the Likud and the Republican Party,” Obama continued. “This is the U.S.-Israeli relationship that extends beyond parties and has to do with that unbreakable bond that we feel and — and our commitment to Israel’s security and the shared values that we have.”
“And the way to preserve that is to make sure that it doesn’t get clouded with what could be perceived as partisan politics. Whether that’s accurate or not, that is a potential perception, and that’s something we have to guard against.”
He added, “Now, I don’t want to be coy. The prime minister and I have a very real difference around Iran — Iran’s sanctions.”
Obama then segued into his “what’s the rush?” comments on Iran nuclear program.
At the start of his Sunday Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu stressed that “the major powers and Iran are galloping toward an agreement that will enable Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons, which will endanger the existence of the State of Israel.”
Referencing Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Netanyahu noted that the pair “announced that they intend to complete a framework agreement by the end of March” after their weekend talks.
“From this stems the urgency of our efforts to try and block this bad and dangerous agreement,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to take action and to lead the international effort against Iran’s arming itself with nuclear weapons. We will do everything and will take any action to foil this bad and dangerous agreement that will place a heavy cloud over the future of the State of Israel and its security.”
Netanyahu plans to address a March 3 joint session of Congress. He’ll also speak at the giant AIPAC conference in D.C. during his trip. Lobbyists from that conference will be flooding Capitol Hill to encourage lawmakers to take a tough stance on Iran.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told an audience at the Brookings Institute this morning that he’ll watch the address on TV, but won’t go.
“The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy,” Sanders said. “And the idea that the president wasn’t even consulted, that is — that is wrong, and not a good thing for our country.”
He wouldn’t speculate on how many of his colleagues felt the same. However, Sanders has not been among the many Dems in the upper chamber pressuring Obama on Iran negotiations and/or sanctions. The Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill passed out of the Senate Banking Committee
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week that leaders “maybe” will “have to even review the idea of joint sessions of Congress” after House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) invitation to Netanyahu.
“I think going forward in this way, the way this conversation is taking so much energy and is really stressful, is really beneath the dignity of the challenge that we have — stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” Pelosi said.
Reuters reported that Netanyahu told supporters on Sunday, “I will go any place I’m invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us.”