WASHINGTON (JTA) – The White House and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the proximity of Israel’s elections rendered inappropriate official events with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pelosi, the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, forcefully denied that Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the House, had consulted with her prior to inviting Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.
“It is out of the ordinary that the speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation,” Pelosi said Thursday in a meeting with reporters.
In his invitation Wednesday to Netanyahu, Boehner said it was made “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.”
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate minority leader, also said he was not consulted prior to the invitation, although he added that he looked forward to Netanyahu’s speech.
Pelosi said the timing of Netanyahu’s March 3 speech was inappropriate, both because of the proximity of the March 17 elections and because Boehner cast it as a rebuttal to U.S. President Barack Obama’s Iran policy and his threatened veto of any new Iran sanctions.
Pelosi echoed Obama’s view that new sanctions could scuttle talks with Iran on keeping it from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“We cannot have [Iran talks] fail when Congress wants to flex its muscle unnecessarily,” she said. “If that is the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit two weeks before his own election right in the midst of negotiations I just don’t think it’s appropriate and helpful.”
Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, also said the proximity of Israeli elections counted out a meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, who is also scheduled to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference.
“The president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress,” she told JTA in an email. “The president has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community.”
The State Department said John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, also would not meet with Netanyahu because of the proximity of elections.
“As a matter of longstanding practice and principle, typically the president obviously does not see heads of states or candidates, neither will the secretary of state, in close proximity to their election so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
She added that she did not believe there would be meetings between Netanyahu and lower-lever officials either.