WASHINGTON — Susan E. Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, sharply criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Tuesday over his plans to address a joint meeting of Congress next week, saying his actions had hurt his nation’s relationship with the United States.
Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to travel to Washington to deliver the speech two weeks before the Israeli elections has “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” Ms. Rice said in an interview on the PBS television program “Charlie Rose.”
Her comments marked the strongest public rebuke to date by the Obama administration since Mr. Netanyahu accepted an invitation from Speaker John A. Boehner to make his case to Congress against a nuclear deal with Iran, which is a priority of Mr. Obama’s. It is also the frankest acknowledgment yet by a top American official of the degree to which the controversy has damaged United States-Israeli relations.
The speech, scheduled for March 3, was arranged by Mr. Boehner and the Israeli ambassador without consulting the White House — a move that Mr. Obama’s team has called a breach of protocol.
The president has said he will not meet with Mr. Netanyahu during his visit to avoid any appearance that he is trying to influence the Israeli elections that are scheduled for mid-March.
The episode is a low point in the tense relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu and has touched off weeks of mostly anonymous sniping and finger-pointing.
Top administration officials have hinted more openly of their displeasure in recent days.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who as president of the Senate would be expected to attend, has said he will be traveling abroad. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that he would be in Switzerland negotiating with the Iranians. The White House has also not committed to sending a representative next week to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference, where Mr. Netanyahu is also scheduled to appear.
Document | Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Letter to Democratic Senators Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined an invitation to speak with Democratic senators during his upcoming visit to the United States, saying that it could “compound misperception of partisanship.”
The Israeli prime minister himself has turned down a request by Democratic senators for a private meeting, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said Tuesday.
“We offered the prime minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong,” Mr. Durbin said in a statement. “His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades.”
In a letter released by Mr. Durbin’s office, Mr. Netanyahu said such a meeting “could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit.”
Mr. Netanyahu said Tuesday that he was making the trip because it was his obligation to “do everything I can to prevent” a nuclear agreement with Iran.
“Therefore, I will go to Washington to address the American Congress, because the American Congress is likely to be the final brake before the agreement between the major powers and Iran,” he said as he toured a military base in southern Israel.
Ms. Rice demurred when asked whether she believed Mr. Netanyahu was making the speech to gain political favor.
“I’m not going to ascribe motives to the prime minister,” she told Mr. Rose. “The point is, we want the relationship between the United States and Israel to be unquestionably strong, immutable, regardless of political seasons in either country, regardless of which party may be in charge in either country.
“We’ve worked very hard to have that,” she said, “and we will work very hard to maintain that.”
Michael R. Gordon and Steve Kenny contributed reporting from Washington, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.
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(via NY Times)