House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday accused the White House of "animosity" towards Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose planned speech before the US Congress has stirred up a political furor in both countries.
Boehner defended his decision to invite Netanyahu to give an address on Iran's nuclear program before Congress next month, flouting diplomatic convention which says that such an invitation should have come from US President Barack Obama.
Boehner said he felt it was important to do an end-run around White House "interference," amid a raging debate over whether to soften sanctions on Tehran.
"I wanted to make sure that there was no interference," he said about his decision to issue the invitation to the Israeli leader.
"There's no secret here in Washington about the animosity that this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu," Boehner told the Fox News Sunday television program, adding, "frankly, I didn't want them getting in the way."
"It's an important message that the American people need to hear," Boehner, the top House Republican, added.
"I'm glad that he's coming and I'm looking forward to what he has to say."
Obama, a Democrat, has refused to meet Netanyahu during his Washington trip next month, saying diplomatic protocol forbids him from doing so, since the Israeli leader is running for re-election on March 17.
The two leaders have had a famously frosty relationship, which has grown even more tense as a result of the disagreement over Netanyahu's upcoming speech.
Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany – known as the P5+1 – have been seeking a comprehensive accord with Iran that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb in return for an easing of economic sanctions.
Petition to postpone speech
A group of Democrats in the House of Representatives are circulating a petition asking Boehner to postpone the March 3 speech by Prime Netanyahu, Bloomberg reported on Monday.
“As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the president,” states the letter, which is being circulated among lawmakers by Representatives Keith Ellison, Steve Cohen and Maxine Waters.
Netanyahu has vowed – despite the presidential snub and pushback from Congressional Democrats – to deliver his speech to Congress as negotiators work toward the political outline of a deal by March 31.
The cut-off point for the technical details of a comprehensive accord by June 30.
Obama not informed in time after all
Boehner's admission undermines the recent claim by David Bernstein in in the Washington Post that a New York Times correction to a story on January 30 revealed that the administration was in fact informed in advance of Boehner's intention to invite Netanyahu.
Bernstein stated: "we have a situation in which the administration was so grossly incompetent that it was circulating false information about Netanyahu from multiple spokespeople, or that it intentionally sought to undermine Netanyahu by lying about his alleged 'breach of protocol.'"