US Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
House Speaker John Boehner made a politically calculated decision not to inform the White House of his invitation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, fearing President Barack Obama would attempt to obstruct the speech, he said on Sunday.
Speaking to Fox News, Republican Boehner said Netanyahu’s message on Iran was important for the American people to hear and that the White House would prefer they not hear his position, which stands in opposition to that of the president.
“I wanted to make sure that there was no interference,” Boehner said, referring to the White House. “There’s no secret here in Washington about the animosity that this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu. I frankly didn’t want that getting in the way, quashing what I thought was a real opportunity.”
The host of Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace, has been critical of the speaker’s moves in the past, and asked Boehner if he has turned the critical issue of US-Israel relations into a political football.
“I have not,” he said. “The fact is that we had every right to do what we did... I wanted the prime minister to come here.”
Neither the White House nor State Department plan on receiving the prime minister when he arrives in March. Both have referred to the handling of the speech as “unusual,” and said the proximity of his visit to Israel’s election makes such meetings inappropriate.
In a related development, Israeli government officials denied a Channel 2 report Sunday that the US has cut off coordination with Israel on the Iranian issue. According to the report, neither the US’s top Iran negotiator, Wendy Sherman, nor National Security Adviser Susan Rice would be updating Israel on progress in the negotiations.
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But one government official said Sherman met with a senior Israeli official last week on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, and that National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen is scheduled to go to Washington at the end of the week and will hold meetings with both Rice and Sherman.
In addition, the official said, in the last two weeks there has been an exchange of assessments regarding Iran at the highest levels.
Senior US officials also denied the Channel 2 report. Washington’s policy of briefing Israel on progress in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program has not changed, senior US officials told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, despite reports to the contrary in Israeli media.
“Conversations continue with Israel on the Iran nuclear negotiations,” one senior State Department official said. “Under Secretary Sherman met with Israeli NSA Cohen and Minister for Intelligence and Strategic Planning [Yuval] Steinitz in Munich and will see NSA Cohen again this week.”
The official noted that the Iran talks were, “obviously,” the main topic of conversation.
“And Secretary [of State John] Kerry continues his conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu about this issue, as has always been the case,” the official continued.
The White House also rejected the report, noting Cohen’s upcoming meeting at the White House with Rice.
“This report is patently false,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey told the Post. “We also continue our frequent and routine contact at various professional levels within the intelligence, military, and diplomatic spheres.”
Nevertheless, there is concern among some that as a result of the tension over the speech – and the fundamental differences between Israel and the US regarding Iran that have now come to the surface – the exchange of information and intelligence from both sides might not be as free as it was in the past in order to prevent the other side from using that information to further its Iranian agenda.
For instance, the US might not share information with Israel it feels Netanyahu might use in arguing against a deal, and Israel might not share with the US intelligence that it feels Washington might use to strengthen its argument that a deal is advantageous.
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