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Netanyahu Accepts Republican Invitation To Address Congress

Lawmakers say the Obama administration is "stiff arming" Congress, keeping them away from diplomacy with Iran. The House Speaker is fighting back, inviting Israel's tough talking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress soon.

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Israel's prime minister has accepted an invitation to address Congress about Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner in what the White House calls a breach of protocol. Reaction to that from Israel coming up, first, NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that Netanyahu will be here just as the U.S. and its negotiating partners try to meet their latest deadline in talks with Iran.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When Boehner invited Netanyahu, the message was clear. Many U.S. lawmakers are dubious of the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran and want to turn up the heat on Iran in these final months of talks. But Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, doesn't think this is such a good idea.

HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI: If that's the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit two weeks before his own election, right in the midst of our negotiations, I just don't think it's appropriate and helpful.

KELEMEN: The White House says President Obama won't meet Netanyahu because the trip is so close to Israel's March 17 elections. The administration is also trying to head-off Congressional action on Iran that Obama argues could undermine diplomacy. The foreign ministers of France, Germany and the U.K. are joining in that effort, writing an op-ed that urges Congress not introduce what they called new hurdles. One of the co-authors was the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who was in Washington this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

FEDERICA MOGHERINI: I would invite everybody to give these negotiations, this diplomatic channel, a chance, especially when it comes to the end of the negotiations.

KELEMEN: She spoke Wednesday alongside Secretary of State John Kerry, who said even an Israeli intelligence official is raising questions about Congressional moves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: This person was asked directly by a Congressional delegation that visited there over the weekend what the effect of sanctions would be, and this person answered that would be like throwing a grenade in the process.

KELEMEN: The Israeli Intelligence Agency, according to local reports, say those comments were misinterpreted and not meant as a sign that Israel opposes new sanctions that would take effect if talks failed. Negotiators have missed two deadlines already and are trying to reach the outline of an agreement by March. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, says he thinks the U.S. and its partners have been drifting closer to Iran's position.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

SENATOR BOB CORKER: Having Congress as a backstop, someone that you do in fact not only have to consult with but you have to seek their approval, would be somewhat of an anchor to keep us from continuing to move towards their position.

KELEMEN: He chaired a testy hearing on the issue this week, complaining that the Obama administration is trying to cut Congress out of a crucial foreign policy debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

CORKER: Just to stiff-arm, say no, we really don't want you to play a role, we want you just to trust us, is totally unacceptable from my standpoint.

KELEMEN: Corker says Congress should at least be able to vote on any deal that comes out of the negotiations, but the Obama administration argues there won't be any formal treaty in need of an up or down vote. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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