Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declined on Tuesday an invitation to meet with U.S. Senate Democrats during his trip to Washington next week.
“Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter to Senators Richard Durbin and Dianne Feinstein obtained by Reuters news agency.
Durbin and Feinstein, two senior Senate Democrats, invited Netanyahu to a closed-door meeting with Democratic senators in a letter on Monday, warning that making U.S.-Israeli relations a partisan political issue could have “lasting repercussions.”
Republican congressional leaders broke diplomatic protocol by consulting neither the White House nor Democrats in Congress before inviting Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and Senate.
In his letter, Netanyahu said he agreed “wholeheartedly” that strong ties between the U.S. and Israel have been built on bipartisan support.
“I also fully understand the importance of bipartisan support for ensuring that our alliance remains strong in the future,” he wrote.
He expressed appreciation for the opportunity to address lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday and said he regretted that the invitation has been perceived by some as partisan.
“I can assure you my sole intention in accepting it was to voice Israel's grave concerns about a potential nuclear agreement with Iran that could threaten the survival of my country,” Netanyahu wrote.
He said he would be glad to address a bipartisan meeting of senators during a future visit to Washington.
Netanyahu has faced criticism at home and abroad for his decision to address the U.S. Congress two weeks before Israeli elections and at a sensitive point in international negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Netanyahu's acceptance of the Republican invitation without the blessing of the White House is destructive to U.S.-Israeli ties.
Rice, in an interview Tuesday with journalist Charlie Rose on PBS, said U.S. relations with Israel have always had a bipartisan nature. But the invitation for the speech now breaks that tradition and adds a political component, she said.
"What has happened over the last several weeks by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the Speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks in advance of his election is that on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship," Rice said.
"Which is not only unfortunate, I think it is destructive of the fabric of the relationship," Rice added.
"It has always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way, the American people want it that way."
Rice declined to say if she thought Netanyahu intended to influence the election in his country by making the speech.
"When it becomes injected with politics that's a problem," she added, however.
"The point is we want the relationship between the US and Israel to be unquestionably strong, immutable, regardless of political seasons in either country," Rice said.
[With AFP and Reuters]SHOW MORE