Obama will not meet with Netanyahu during trip to Washington

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Obama will not meet with Netanyahu during trip to Washington
Vice President Joe Biden, along with several prominent Democrats, won’t be attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech.
Israeli Prime Minister and Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech to his supporters during an election campaign meeting with members of Israel's French Jewish community, at a Jerusalem hotel on February 8, 2015, ahead of the March 17 general elections. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister and Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu stands among supporters and security personnel during an election campaign meeting with members of Israel's French Jewish community, at a Jerusalem hotel on February 8, 2015, ahead of the March 17 general elections. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his Jerusalem office, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with US President Barack Obama (R) during a bilateral meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, October 1, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens as President Barack Obama speaks during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since a rash of civilian casualties during Israel's summer war with Hamas heightened tensions between two leaders who have long had a prickly relationship. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since a rash of civilian casualties during Israel's summer war with Hamas heightened tensions between two leaders who have long had a prickly relationship. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) in the Oval Office of the White House October 1, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama and Netanyahu were expected to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues during their meeting, including U.S. efforts against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Iranian nuclear capabilities, and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (R) speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) during a bilateral meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, October 1, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since a rash of civilian casualties during Israel's summer war with Hamas heightened tensions between two leaders who have long had a prickly relationship. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since a rash of civilian casualties during Israel's summer war with Hamas heightened tensions between two leaders who have long had a prickly relationship. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since a rash of civilian casualties during Israel's summer war with Hamas heightened tensions between two leaders who have long had a prickly relationship. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he travels to Washington in March, the White House said Thursday, one day after being caught off-guard by Republicans' invitation for the Israeli leader to address a joint session of Congress.

Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that in keeping with "long-standing practice and principle," the president does not meet with heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections.

"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," Meehan said.

Netanyahu is scheduled to speak to Congress on March 3 and will push for additional sanctions on Iran. He was initially scheduled to address lawmakers in February, but the date was changed so that it could coincide with Netanyahu's trip to Washington to address an annual conference held by AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby group, in early March.

The invitation was a coordinated effort by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with staff discussions beginning last year, according to a senior Republican aide, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to publicly discuss the private talks.

Boehner contacted the Israeli ambassador on Jan. 8 to assess Netanyahu's interest and received a positive response. The GOP leaders reached out to the Israelis without consulting with the White House or State Department, a move that appeared likely to deepen the White House's already tense relations with congressional Republicans as well as the Israeli leader.

Obama has been urging Republicans, as well as some members of his own party, to hold off on passing new Iran sanctions legislation while the U.S. and international partners are in the midst of nuclear negotiations with the Islamic republic. Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had been making a similar case to U.S. lawmakers.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Thursday that the nuclear negotiations were at a delicate phase.

"We ought to give some time and space for that to work," he said.

Netanyahu stands to gain politically at home from the U.S. visit. He is in a tough fight to win re-election in Israel's upcoming March vote. Netanyahu's Likud Party is running behind the main opposition group headed by Yitzhak Herzog's Labor Party, which has been highlighting rancor in the country's critical relationship with the United States.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was inappropriate for Boehner to invite Netanyahu to address Congress in the shadow of the election and give the appearance of endorsing the prime minister.

"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," Pelosi said.

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