, The New York Times
President Obama will not meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel when he travels to Washington in March to address a joint session of Congress, the White House said on Thursday, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to their elections.
“As a matter of longstanding practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement. “Accordingly, the president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.”
The decision to keep the Israeli leader at arm’s length when he visits this spring comes as Mr. Obama is clashing with lawmakers in Congress over a bid to pass legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if talks aimed at preventing the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon fail.
Mr. Netanyahu has been vocal in his opposition to those talks, arguing that Iran cannot be trusted to refrain from developing weapons with the capability to strike Israel.
White House officials expressed surprise on Wednesday after Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, invited Mr. Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on Iran and other matters.
Mr. Obama “has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community,” Ms. Meehan said on Thursday. “The president has had many conversations with the prime minister on this matter, and I am sure they will continue to be in contact on this and other important matters.”