U.S. President Barack Obama told CNN he will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in March because his trip to Washington comes too close to Israel's upcoming elections.
"I'm declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is, we don't meet with any world leader two weeks before their election," Obama told Fareed Zakaria in an interview which will air Sunday and of which excerpts were released Wednesday.
"I think that's inappropriate, and that's true with some of our closest allies," he added.
The President said the United States and Britain had to quickly to put together a trip to Washington for Prime Minister David Cameron this month for the same reason Obama wasn't meeting with Netanyahu. Cameron didn't want to make it closer to his country's May elections.
"He insisted that if he wants to come — and it was a very important meeting — he needs to be far away enough from the election that it doesn't look like in some ways we're meddling or putting our thumbs on the scale," Obama said.
The President downplayed differences with Israel over his approach to Iran, saying he hasn't heard "a persuasive rebuttal of my argument that we crafted very effective sanctions against Iran specifically to bring them to the negotiations table."
Israeli intelligence has confirmed that Iran has rolled back its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium, Obama said.
He added that imposing new sanctions now would give Iran a way out of the talks, an outcome no one wants.
"For us to undermine diplomacy at this critical time for no good reason is a mistake and that what we need to do is to finish up this round of negotiations, put the pressure on Iran to say yes to what the international community is calling for," he told CNN.
Obama said he's confident he can successfully lobby Congress to approve a deal once it's struck.
"I've said before that we will take no deal over a bad deal," Obama said. "But if I can prove that the deal we've put in place assures us through indisputable verification mechanisms that Iran cannot achieve breakout capacity, if I've got a bunch of scientists and nuclear experts saying this assures us that Iran is not on the brink of being a nuclear weapons power, then that's a public debate we should have."
"And I will then ask every member of Congress to ask why would we reject that deal and prefer a potential military option that would be less effective in constraining Iran's nuclear program and would have extraordinarily ramifications at a time when we've already got too many conflicts in the Middle East," he said. "And I'm pretty confident I can win that argument.
The Politico website revealed last week that the invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress was extended by Boehner without consulting the White House or the State Department. Instead, Boehner’s and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s staff coordinated with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer only.
The White House originally gave an icy response to news that Netanyahu was invited to address Congress, saying it was a departure from diplomatic protocol.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest later delivered a more toned down response, stressing there was no tension between President Obama and Netanyahu, and that Obama’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu during his visit stemmed only from the fact that the visit is close to the elections in Israel.
The left has blamed Netanyahu for deliberately trying to anger Obama by addressing Congress on Iran, while Netanyahu has insisted his speech is crucial in order to prevent a bad deal with Iran.
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg on Wednesday penned an article that tears into Netanyahu over his upcoming speech before Congress, saying the idea for delivering the speech without consulting the White House was “concocted” by Dermer.