US & Canada

Barack Obama will not meet Benjamin Netanyahu in March

US President Barack Obama (R) talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the White House march 2012 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama (seen here in 2012) have not seen eye to eye

Barack Obama will not meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits in March to speak to Congress, the White House says.

Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan cited a "long-standing practice" of not meeting government leaders close to elections, which Israel will hold in mid-March.

Mr Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner in what is seen as a rebuke to Mr Obama's Iran policy.

The US president has said he will veto attempts to add new sanctions on Iran.

Mr Obama believes new measures will be harmful to negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme, talks Mr Netanyahu has opposed.

The Israeli prime minister has warned a deal between Iran and the US will pose a threat to Israel.

On Thursday, Mr Netanyahu formally accepted the invitation from senior Republican Mr Boehner, saying it will give him the chance to "thank President Barack Obama, Congress and the American people for their support of Israel"

Analysis: Nick Bryant, BBC News, Washington

"A full blown crisis" was how Jeffrey Goldberg, one of America's leading Middle East commentators, described relations between the US and Israel last October, in an article that famously quoted a senior Obama administration official describing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a most unflattering, ornithological manner.

Since then, relations have deteriorated still further. The news this week that Netanyahu had accepted an invitation from the Republican House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress - essentially to deliver a rebuttal to the president's pledge to veto any new congressional sanctions against Iran - blindsided the White House.

They complained that it was a "breach of protocol." In announcing that the prime minister will not get to meet the president, the Obama administration is invoking diplomatic protocol again.

But this will be widely interpreted as a snub, and make a difficult relationship even more acrimonious.

Image copyright AP
Image caption House Speaker John Boehner invited Mr Netanyahu without consulting the White House

He is expected to discuss Iran, as well as Islamic militant groups, in his address to Congress on 3 March.

"As a matter of long-standing 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," Ms Meehan said in a statement.

She added Mr Obama had "been clear about his opposition" about new sanctions legislation.

"The president has had many conversations with the prime minister on this matter, and I am sure they will continue to be in contact."

Nancy Pelosi, the House's top Democrat, said the visit, two weeks before Israel's election and in the midst of "delicate" Iran talks, is not "appropriate and helpful".

Mr Netanyahu is fighting a tough election against the Labor Party's Yitzhak Herzog, who has focused on the prime minister's cooler relations with Mr Obama.

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