World / Politics

In Obama snub, Boehner asks Netanyahu to address Congress mulling Iran bill

Bloomberg

House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of the U.S. Congress next month as lawmakers weigh legislation that would tighten sanctions on Iran.

Netanyahu plans to accept the invitation, according to an Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The invitation to Netanyahu came hours after President Barack Obama said in his annual State of the Union address that he would veto any bill that increases penalties on Iran because such legislation risks collapsing international talks aimed at curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.

“I did not consult with the White House” before inviting Netanyahu, Boehner said at a news conference today. “The Congress can make this decision on its own. I do not believe I am poking anyone in the eye.”

Boehner said Obama “papered over” threats from Iran and radical Islam jihadis during his speech.

In a news release accompanying a copy of the letter, released on Wednesday by Boehner’s office, the Ohio Republican cited the threat to national security from Islamic extremism and Iran. The letter invited the Israeli leader, who has warned against “a bad deal” that would allow Iran to maintain some nuclear capabilities, to speak on Feb. 11.

“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,” Boehner wrote. “Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.”

Netanyahu would be making his third appearance before a joint meeting of Congress, according to the statement from Boehner’s office. The White House had no immediate comment when asked about the invitation.

During Obama’s address to lawmakers on Tuesday night, he repeated that he would veto sanctions legislation, saying that new penalties “passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails —alienating America from its allies, and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.”

The Senate Banking Committee has scheduled a vote for Jan. 29 on legislation to increase sanctions, though lawmakers have said that new measures would take effect only if there’s no comprehensive deal with Iran by the June 30 deadline.

At the year’s first congressional hearing on Iran sanctions, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there’s a “credible chance” of reaching a nuclear deal with Iran. A move toward new sanctions would “risk fatally undermining our diplomacy,” Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey defied Obama, saying further sanctions are needed because Iran has been taking “provocative” steps while negotiations between the Islamic Republic and six world powers drag on.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California countered that new sanctions “would give Iran an excuse to walk away” from the talks. She said she’s working with Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to draft an alternative to legislation by Menendez and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.

The legislation would impose additional sanctions that would take effect if Iran doesn’t agree to a comprehensive accord acceptable to Congress.

David Cohen, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in prepared testimony to the committee that sanctions relief granted to Iran while the talks are underway “pales in comparison” to oil sanctions that cost the U.S. more than $40 billion in 2014.