Pelosi warns Netanyahu: Speech to Congress will hurt Iran talks

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his coming speech before Congress threatens to sink the nuclear talks between Iran and the United States.

"I think that such a presentation could send the wrong message," the House Democratic leader told reporters during the Democrats' annual issues retreat in Philadelphia. "That's my view, and I shared that with the prime minister today."

A Pelosi spokesman said Pelosi and Netanyahu spoke by phone earlier in the day. The spokesman declined to characterize Netanyahu's response.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTop Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report Rep. Meadows to run for Freedom Caucus chairman MORE (R-Ohio) raised eyebrows last week when he announced that Netanyahu had accepted his invitation to address a rare joint session of Congress early this year — an invitation extended without consulting Democratic leaders in Congress or the White House.

BoehnerJohn BoehnerTop Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report Rep. Meadows to run for Freedom Caucus chairman MORE defended the action, saying Congress has every right, as a separate branch of government, to operate without the administration's input. But Pelosi was quick to criticize Boehner's move as a breach of protocol, saying such invitations to heads of state have always been preceded by consultations with leaders from the opposing party.

The debate arrives amid high-stakes negotiations between Iran and the United States, among a handful of other western nations, over the future of Iran's nuclear program. 

Obama is seeking to ease Iran sanctions as part of a deal to end its nuclear weapons program, setting a deadline for late March.

Republicans and some Democrats have urged stronger sanctions, although a number of Democratic senators this week eased the pressure to allow the negotiations to run their full course.

Adding to the controversy, Netanyahu's speech, slated for March 3, comes just a few weeks ahead of a contentious national election in Israel.

Pelosi on Wednesday emphasized that Israel is a vital U.S. ally, and characterized Netanyahu as "a respected leader." But she's also wary of the effect of the speech on the Iran talks.

"It's a serious big honor that we extend. That it should be extended two weeks before an election in a country without collaboration among the leaders of Congress, and without collaboration with the White House, is not appropriate," Pelosi said. 

"But the bigger issue is what would that do ... to see how diplomacy will work or not [in the Iran talks]. If it doesn't work, we have to determine a course of action. But our strength in determining whatever course of action that is, I think, springs from the fact that we gave diplomacy a chance."