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Republicans invite Netanyahu to address Congress on Iran

White House officials said House Speaker John Boehner's invitation was a 'departure from protocol'
US Speaker of the House John Boehner holds a news conference on Wednesday (AFP)

In a move criticised by the White House as a "depature from protocol", House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of the US Congress next month.

If accepted, the prime minister's speech will be delivered weeks ahead of the March deadline for the Obama administration and world powers to agree to a political framework with Iran about its nuclear programme. 

Boehner said that the invitation to address Congress on 11 February is an “unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people".

“In this time of challenge, I am asking the prime minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life,” he said in a statement.

Netanyahu is a vociferous critic of the administration’s attempts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran, warning that the country will use an agreement as a shield for covert attempts to gain a nuclear weapon.

He has twice addressed Congress – once in 1996 and again in 2011.

President Barack Obama has requested that Congress refrain from authorising new sanctions on Iran until multilateral negotiations conclude.

Boehner’s response: “Hell no!”

“His exact message to us was: ‘Hold your fire.’ He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: Hell no! … We’re going to do no such thing,” Boehner said, according to Politico.

On Wednesday, Boehner said Netanyahu "is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people."

The White House was not consulted on the invitation, Boehner said in televised remarks.

Departure from protocol

The White House gave an icy response to news of the invitation, suggesting it would be a departure from protocol.

"We haven't heard from the Israelis directly about the trip at all," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

"The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he is travelling there. That is certainly how President Obama's trips are planned."

"So this particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol."  

The White House added it would "reserve judgment" on any possible meeting between Obama and Netanyahu for now.

The Obama administration, Earnest said, would want to hear about plans for the trip and Netanyahu's message "before we have a decision to make about any meeting."

While the United States and Israel remain close allies, personal relations between Barack Obama and Netanyahu are reportedly frosty.

The two have clashed over settlement building in the West Bank and how to tackle Iran's nuclear program.

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