Obama aide calls Netanyahu visit 'destructive' to relations

A top adviser to President Barack Obama sharply criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to address Congress next week, calling the move "destructive" to the ties between the US and Israel.

Washington: A top adviser to President Barack Obama sharply criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to address Congress next week, calling the move "destructive" to the ties between the US and Israel.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Netanyahu's March 3 speech, which was arranged by Republican congressional leaders, has "injected a degree of partisanship" into a relationship that should be above politics.

"It's destructive to the fabric of the relationship," Rice told the Charlie Rose show yesterday. "It's always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way."

Rice's statements were among the Obama administration's toughest public criticism of Netanyahu's speech and the negative impact it could have on the close alliances between the US and Israel. The Israeli leader's speech was arranged without the White House or State Department's knowledge, a move the administration blasted as a breach of diplomatic protocol.

Rice's comments came as Netanyahu turned down an invitation to meet privately with Senate Democrats during his trip to Washington, saying such a session could "compound the misperception of partisanship" surrounding his visit.

"I regret that the invitation to address the special joint session of Congress has been perceived by some to be political or partisan," Netanyahu wrote in a letter to Sens. Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein. "I can assure you that 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."

US officials believe Netanyahu's trip is aimed primarily at derailing a nuclear deal with Iran, Obama's signature foreign policy objective. While Netanyahu has long been skeptical of the negotiations, his opposition has increased over what he sees as Obama's willingness to make concessions that would leave Iran on the brink of being able to build a nuclear weapon.

US and Iranian officials reported progress in negotiations this week on a deal that would clamp down on Tehran's nuclear activities for at least 10 years but then slowly ease restrictions. Israeli officials warned this week that such a deal would allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state.

The White House has been weighing ways to counter Netanyahu's address to Congress, as well as separate speech to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The administration is still weighing whom to send to the conference, with some officials pushing for a lower level representative than normal.

There are no plans for Obama to meet with Netanyahu next week, with the White House officially citing its practice of not engaging with world leaders in close proximity to elections. Israel's elections are set for March 17.

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