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.”

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

Speaker John Boehner (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.

Boehner 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.” 

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