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Citing Proximity Of Israeli Election, Obama Won't Meet With Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen here Oct. 22, 2014, will address a joint meeting of Congress on March 3.

Updated at 12:40 p.m.

The White House says President Obama won't meet with Israel's prime minister in March when Benjamin Netanyahu will be in Washington to address a joint meeting of Congress.

"As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country," White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement. "Accordingly, the President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress."

Israel's election is scheduled for March 17. Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress March 3, days after he speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, which begins March 1. He was previously scheduled to speak Feb. 11, but asked that the speech be moved to March, House Speaker John Boehner said in a tweet today.

The White House announcement is the latest wrinkle in the story that began Wednesday when Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress on Feb. 11. The White House, which was not consulted about the invitation, called it a "departure from ... protocol." Boehner defended the decision Wednesday, saying, "The Congress can make this decision on its own." (You can read more about how this is done at the House of Representatives' website.)

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi weighed in today, saying the invitation wasn't "appropriate ... [or] helpful."

Earlier, a statement from Netanyahu's office said the speech will give him the chance to "thank President Barack Obama, Congress and the American people for their support of Israel."

Netanyahu, who faces a tough election, is reported to have a frosty relationship with Obama, but he enjoys support in Congress.

NPR's Michele Kelemen tells our Newscast unit that Netanyahu's speech will come just as the U.S. and other world powers try to meet their latest deadline on negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

There is bipartisan support to impose more sanctions on Iran if the talks fail, but Obama has threatened to veto any sanctions, saying they would derail the talks. And Michele reports that European countries are urging Congress not to introduce "new hurdles" at this critical stage of negotiations.

Israel views Iran as a threat.

Netanyahu, who previously addressed Congress in 2011 and 1996, is not the only leader to have addressed a joint meeting. More recently, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed Congress in September 2014, and South Korean leader Park Geun-hye spoke in May 2013.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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