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President Barack Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu when he visits the United States in March, his administration announced Thursday, citing a "long-standing practice" of avoiding appearances with heads of state in close proximity to their elections.
"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," said Bernadette Meehan a spokesperson for the National Security Council. "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."
Secretary of State John Kerry also will not meet with Netanyahu during the visit, the State Department confirmed, citing the same reason.
Netanhayu has been invited to address a joint session of Congress on March 3. The invitation was extended by House Speaker John Boehner in an apparent challenge to the president's opposition to additional congressional sanctions on Iran. Boehner notably did not consult the White House before making the invitation.
"The President has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community," Meehan said. "The President has had many conversations with the Prime Minister on this matter, and I am sure they will continue to be in contact on this and other important matters."
Boehner spokesman Cory Fritz said, "Our president rolls out unconstitutional executive actions on a whim and now he's concerned about protocol? The American people need to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu at this critical moment."
- Kristin Welker and Carrie Dann