President Obama will not meet with Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli Prime Minister visits the U.S. in March as the invited guest of Republican congressional leaders, according to White House spokesman Josh Earnest. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) President Barack Obama will not meet Israel's Prime Minister when he visits Washington in March, the White House said on Friday (January 23) after being blindsided by the Republicans' invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress on Iran. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama was withholding an invitation for Oval Office talks with Netanyahu because the Israeli leader's visit comes just two weeks before Israel's March 17 elections. "This administration goes to great lengths to ensure that we don't give even the appearance of of interfering or attempting to to influence the outcome of a democratically held election in another country," Earnest told reporters. The decision by Obama, whose relationship with Netanyahu has often been tense, might be interpreted as a snub because leaders from Israel, a staunch U.S. ally, are almost always afforded talks with the American president on trips to Washington. Netanyahu has accused Obama of making too many concessions to Iran for too little in return in nuclear talks between Tehran and world powers, and his visit could set up a diplomatic showdown on an issue that has divided Obama and congressional Republicans. The White House addressed differing views regarding Iran. "This President has certainly not allowed the disagreement over our Iran approach to in any way shake the commitment of the United States to the national security of Israel," Earnest said. The White House characterized the invitation extended by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to Netanyahu as a "departure from protocol." "It is consistent with long-standing practice for the leader of a foreign government when they are planning to visit the United States to contact and coordinate that visit with the leader of the United States," Earnest said. Netanyahu's government issued a statement on Thursday (January 22) saying the invitation had been extended by the "two-party leadership" of Congress, but congressional aides said they knew of no members of the Democratic party who had been consulted.