The U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress on Iran. In normal circumstances it would seem customary for an invite to be extended to the Israeli prime minister, as he opposes U.S. policy towards Iran and targets the Shiite state. However, the invitation was made without consulting U.S. President Barack Obama, who lost control of the Congress in the mid-term elections in November.
The White House asked whether protocol has been violated, although the White House was notified immediately before the invitation was sent. White House Press Secretary John Earnest described the situation as "interesting."
"The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he's traveling there. That certainly is how President [Barack] Obama's trips are planned when he travels overseas. This particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol," he said.
It seems clear that Republicans want Netanyahu to add pressure on the administration to apply a new round of sanctions against Iran, something Obama wants to delay, Earnest said. Secretary of State John Kerry was asked about Netanyahu's visit during a Washington press conference with European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. "We welcome the prime minister of Israel to come and speak in America any time," Kerry said but added that the method of invitation was "a little unusual."
He acknowledged that the main reason behind the invitation was to place pressure on the administration concerning Iran. However, he said that despite differences in tactics, the administration and Congress have a common goal to prevent Iran possessing nuclear weapons. In response to the question of whether inviting Netanyahu without speaking to the White House was a "poke in the eye" to Obama, Boehner said "The Congress can make this decision on its own. I don't believe I'm poking anyone in the eye."
Earnest said the White House was reserving judgment until there was a chance to discuss Netanyahu's trip with Israeli officials. "We'll need to hear from them about what their plans are and what he plans to say in his remarks to Congress before we have a decision to make about any meeting," Earnest said.
Netanyahu has courted controversy of late after his attendance at an anti-terrorism rally, which was held in Paris after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine and the hostage crisis in a Jewish store that left 16 dead drew outrage from around the world. Israel-based daily Haaretz newspaper claimed that the French President Francois Hollande asked the Israeli Prime Minister notto attend the anti-terrorism rally.
The French president wanted the event to focus on demonstrating solidarity with France, and to avoid anything that could divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hollande's concern was realized, as Netanyahu asked the Jews living in France to emigrate to Israel.
Even before leaving for Paris, on Saturday evening, Netanyahu issued a statement in which he said "To all the Jews of France and to all the Jews of Europe, I wish to say: the State of Israel is not only the place to which you pray, the State of Israel is also your home."
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