President Obama on Monday defended his decision to not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Washington next month, arguing he did not want to politicize the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“Some of this has to do with how we do business. And it's important for us to maintain these protocols because the U.S.-Israeli relationship is not about a particular party,” Obama said Monday.
Netanyahu’s trip, scheduled through Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office and centered on a speech to a joint sessions of Congress, has drawn fire from Democrats who have argued it is intended to undercut Obama.
Vice President Biden is skipping the speech because of a previously scheduled trip, and a number of Democrats say they won’t attend the address.
Administration officials have described Netanyahu’s decision to accept Boehner’s invitation as a breach of protocol. Netanyahu is expected to criticize Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear deal in Iran and urge lawmakers to move on legislation imposing additional sanctions on Tehran if the talks fail.
Obama said he and Netanyahu “have a very real difference around Iran sanctions" but that “it does not make sense to sour the negotiations a month or two before they're about to be completed” by threatening new penalties.
“What's the rush?” Obama asked.
He said such a move only made sense if it was completely impossible to strike a deal with Iran, but that the options stemming from such a determination were “narrow, and they're not attractive.”
“It's far better if we can get a diplomatic solution,” Obama said.
Obama said the U.S. has had “a practice of not meeting with leaders right before their election,” and that the Israeli leader's decision to speak to Congress two weeks before his Election Day risked clouding the alliance “with what could be perceived as partisan politics.”
Obama, speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel also appeared to cast the visit as unusual. He said that as much as he loved Merkel, he would not expect to invite her to the White House just before the German elections.
“I suspect she wouldn't have asked for one,” Obama said with a grin.