Obama Defends Netanyahu Snub

'With respect to PM Netanyahu . . . I talk to him all the time,' Obama says, insists 'unbreakable' US-Israel bond still stable.

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Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Reuters

President Barack Obama on Monday insisted the United States retained an "unbreakable bond" with Israel despite his refusal to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a controversial trip to Washington next month.

Obama, who is at loggerheads with Netanyahu over negotiations concerning Iran's disputed nuclear program, said diplomatic protocol forbade him from meeting the Israeli leader, who is fighting for re-election on March 17.

"With respect to Prime Minister Netanyahu, as I said before, I talk to him all the time. Our teams constantly coordinate," Obama said, according to AFP.

"We have a practice of not meeting with leaders right before their elections, two weeks before their elections," Obama said during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"This is the US-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."

"And the way to preserve that is to make sure that it doesn't get clouded with what could be perceived as partisan politics," he added. 

Obama's Republican rivals invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress early next month, in a move seen by critics as potentially undermining US policy in ongoing negotiations with Tehran. 

Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed fears that the United States and other major powers are brokering a "bad deal" over Iran's nuclear program. 

Obama acknowledged the schism between the White House and Netanyahu over how best to tackle Iran, stressing every effort needed to be made to find a diplomatic solution.

"I'm looking at what the options are if we don't get a diplomatic resolution. And those options are narrow and they're not attractive... It is far better if we can get a diplomatic solution," Obama said. "There are real differences substantively."

Criticism over the White House's reaction thus far to the address has been so strong that Netanyahu has reportedly been discussing several alternative options - including downscaling the event from a live speech to a closed-door session of Congress or even canceling the event altogether and addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in Washington instead. 

But earlier Monday, Netanyahu insisted that he was "determined" to address Congress regardless of the backlash.