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Republicans invite Netanyahu to speak to Congress

January 21, 2015

John Boehner has rejected what he sees as Obama's demand to 'sit idly by' over Iran, inviting the Israeli PM to address Congress next month. The White House was unimpressed by the surprise guest speaker in the Capitol.

Benjamin Netanjahu bei Barack Obama Washington 01.10.2014
Image: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Rebuffing President Obama's plea that Congress sit tight on any Iran sanctions until after the deadline for a deal on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program passes in July, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner announced on Wednesday he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress next months on the threats emanating from Tehran.

The Associated Press reported that Boehner told his colleagues that Obama "expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran," before adding "Two words: ‘Hell no!'…We're going to do no such thing."

A departure from protocol

When asked about the president's response, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said coolly, "The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he is travelling there. This is certainly how President Obama's trips are planned… So this particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol."

Although Israel and the United States remain allies, Netanyahu and Obama have publicly disagreed over Israeli settlements on the West Bank and how to handle Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Benjamin Netanjahu Premierminister Israel
Netanyahu spoke before Congress in 1996 and 2011Image: dapd

Obama wants negotiations with Tehran to play out before any new sanctions are introduced, and has vowed to veto any new such legislation that crosses his desk. The president said in Tuesday's State of the Union address that new sanctions will "all but guarantee that diplomacy fails, alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again."

President Obama also warned last weak that rash action by Congress would increase the risk of a military showdown.

Boehner 'not poking anyone in the eye'

Both Obama and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani face stiff opposition to negotiations from conservative groups in their respective homelands. As a case in point, Senate Republicans are working on legislation that would allow Congress to vote on any deal Obama reaches with Tehran, and have promised to ramp up sanctions if the June deadline passes with no agreement reached.

Responding to a reporter's question about whether he was being provocative on purpose, Boehner answered that "Congress can make this decision on its own. I don't believe I am poking anyone in the eye. There is a serious threat that exists in the world. And the president last night kind of papered over it."

Boehner added that Netanyahu is "a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it out unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people."

Netanyahu's speech is scheduled for February 11, a crucial time for the Israeli president who is in the middle of a re-election campaign.

es/ (AP, AFP)