US Secretary of State John Kerry boards his plane.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is addressing a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Montreux, Switzerland, to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the timing of Kerry’s travel was not scheduled around Netanyahu’s controversial address, but rather dictated by the pace of the talks. World powers are working with Iran to clinch a framework agreement on its nuclear work by the end of March.
The Obama administration will not be hosting the prime minister in any capacity during his visit to Washington, but has decided to send Susan Rice, US President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, to address a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee next week.
US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power will also attend.
Rice is expected to address the fractious state of US-Israel relations, after characterizing Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress as a “destructive,” partisan act.House Speaker John Boehner
(R-Ohio), who invited the prime minister without first informing the White House, said he “couldn’t disagree more” with Rice’s statement, in a press conference on Thursday.
“The American people and both parties of Congress have always stood with Israel and nothing – and no one – could get in the way,” the speaker said.
Netanyahu will leave Israel Sunday at around noon, and be in Washington for less than 48 hours before flying back Tuesday afternoon.
On the eve of the trip, and in what appeared as an attempt to remove any additional tensions in Washington, Netanyahu’s office announced Thursday night that Israel would hook up the city of Rawabi to Israel’s water grid, and would take some of the frozen Palestinian Authority tax revenue to pay part of its massive electric bill and ensure an uninterrupted flow of electricity to the Palestinian cities.
The refusal to hook up Rawabi, a new Palestinian city north of Ramllah, to Israel’s water network has prevented the populating of the city and has long been a bone of contention.
Regarding the electric bill, Israel will transfer some NIS 200,000 of the funds it has frozen to the Israel Electric Corporation, which – as a result – will not cut off power to the PA cities. This week, for the first time, the IEC shut off the electricity to Jenin and Nablus for short periods because of NIS 1.9 billion in unpaid bills.
Netanyahu’s public schedule this time will be very sparse, with just three events – a Monday morning speech to AIPAC, Tuesday morning’s address to a joint session of Congress, and following that speech, a meeting with bipartisan leadership of both the Senate and the House. This meeting was initiated by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Senate Minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).
He will fly back to Israel shortly after delivering that meeting.
While the speech to Congress, Netanyahu’s third, is expected to deal primarily with Iran, his speech to AIPAC – perhaps reflecting the current tension with the White House – will, according to government officials, focus on the importance of the US-Israel relationship.
In that speech Netanyahu is expected to talk about how strong the alliance between the two countries is, and also talk about the history of the special relationship, and the common values and ideals behind it.
While little has been revealed about the speech to Congress, it is no secret that the focus will be Israel’s strong objection to the pact being negotiated between the world powers and Iran.
Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who has come under a great deal of criticism for his handling of the invitation to Netanyahu to speak, has been in Jerusalem over the last week helping the prime minister prepare for the visit, and will be flying with him to Washington on Sunday.