At a press conference with Angela Merkel on Monday, a reporter asked President Obama how he'd advise Democrats who are considering a boycott against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he comes to address a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu had sidestepped the White House in asking Speaker John Boehner for an opportunity to address American lawmakers. Obama's answer suggested that, in part, the Israeli leader is doing it for optics. Netanyahu's speech will come just weeks before Israeli elections. A selection from Obama's response:
We have a practice of not meeting with leaders right before their elections, two weeks before their elections. As much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation to the White House. And I expect she wouldn't have asked for one....
I think it's important for us to maintain these protocols ... this is the U.S.-Israeli relationship that extends beyond parties. It has to do with that unbreakable bond that we feel, and our commitment to Israel's security and the shared values that we have. The way to preserve that is to make sure that it doesn't get clouded with what could be perceived as partisan politics.
"Now, I don't want to be coy," the president then said, implying his previous response may not have been completely straightforward. "The prime minister and I have a very real difference" on Iranian issues. Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the diplomatic process. "But that's separate and apart from the whole issue of Mr. Netanyahu coming to Washington," he said.
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