Tensions between the White House and Benjamin Netanyahu intensified Wednesday as top administration officials condemned the Israeli prime minister’s plan to address Congress next week, while Netanyahu accused six world powers, including the United States, of “giving up on their commitment” in negotiations to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The unusually public spat marked one of the lowest points in a relationship that has long bonded the two countries. Although the new round of recriminations reflected the frosty personal relations between President Obama and Netanyahu, it came at a critical juncture in multilateral talks designed to prevent Iran from using a civilian program to develop a nuclear weapon. The prime minister has said that the unfolding deal — to which Iran has not yet agreed — could pose an existential threat to the Jewish state. Obama, however, considers a deal a potential legacy that could ease nuclear tensions, lift trade restrictions on Iran and alter the region’s strategic calculus.
Congressional Democrats have been caught in the middle of the dispute. On Wednesday, Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.) became the fourth senator to say he would skip Netanyahu’s speech in Congress next week, calling its timing “highly inappropriate.” Several members of the House also have said they would boycott the speech. The latest volley of high-level criticism began when national security adviser Susan E. Rice, appearing on “Charlie Rose” on Tuesday night, condemned Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to appear at a joint session of Congress shortly before the Israeli elections.
By bypassing the White House, dealing only with GOP leaders and scheduling the speech just before Israelis vote, Netanyahu had “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate,” Rice said. “I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.” At a Likud political convention in the Maale Adumim settlement just east of Jerusalem, Netanyahu fired back. “I respect the White House and the President of the United States, but on such a critical topic that could determine whether we exist or not, it is my duty to do everything to prevent this great danger to the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said.