WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will not meet Israel’s prime minister when he visits Washington in March, the White House said on Thursday, after being blindsided by the Republicans’ invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress on Iran.
Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said Obama was withholding an invitation for Oval Office talks with Netanyahu because of Israel’s March 17 elections.
“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” Meehan said in statement.
“Accordingly, 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.”
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu announced that he would address Congress in March.
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 declined to say if Netanyahu had sought a meeting with Obama, but an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the Israeli prime minister was looking into the possibility of talks with the president during the visit.
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