Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to fly to Washington in mid-February to address a special joint session of Congress and discuss Iran and Islamic extremism, sources in his office confirmed Wednesday.
Speaker of the House John Boehner sent an invitation to Netanyahu “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate.”
This would be the third time Netanyahu would address a special joint session of Congress, with Winston Churchill the only other foreign leader to have addressed that body three times. Former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Olmert have all also addressed the body once.
Although the speech would entail Netanyahu traveling to the US just a month before the elections, he is expected to take advantage of the opportunity because it would likely mute criticism that he has badly damaged relations with the US.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said it was too early to discuss whether or not a meeting would be arranged as well with US President Barack Obama.
Boehner issued a statement saying that “Netanyahu is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people.”
The House speaker said that “in this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life. Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.”
Netanyahu first addressed a joint session of Congress during his first term in July 1996, and then again in May 2011. During that speech, coming at a time of tension in his relations with Obama, he was received very warmly by Congress, gaining 29 standing ovations.
The invitation comes at a time when Congress and Obama are poised to do battle over whether to ratchet up sanctions against Iran.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Obama said that diplomacy has led to a situation where for the first time in a decade Iran has halted its nuclear progress and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.
Obama said that new sanctions, which many in Congress are advocating, would “all but guarantee that diplomacy fails – alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.”
Obama said that such a move did not make sense, and that he would veto any new sanctions bill “that threatens to undo this progress.”
Netanyahu has come out in favor of stepping up sanctions against Iran, saying this is the only way to get Tehran to agree to roll back its nuclear program. Sources in the PMO, when asked if Netanyahu would not be stepping into the middle of a bitter US domestic battle by speaking on the issue to Congress, stressed that the invitation from Boehner was made on behalf of the leadership from both parties in Congress.