House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Wednesday invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress on Feb. 11 about the threat posed by Islamic extremism and the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program.
"Prime Minister 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," Boehner said in a statement on Wednesday. "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 is an ardent foe of the negotiations with Iran, a longtime adversary of his country, and he's spoken out against a deal that could leave Iran with the "break-out" capacity to convert a nuclear energy program into a nuclear weapons program.
The address would be Netanyahu's third to a joint session of Congress. The Israeli leader previously spoke before lawmakers in 1996, during a previous stint as prime minister, and in 2011.
The invitation comes as Congress is gearing up for a debate over additional sanctions on Iran. Republican lawmakers, along with several key Democrats, hope that additional sanctions could apply pressure to Iran in the nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and its European partners. But the administration has warned that any new punitive action against Iran could end up jeopardizing the prospect of a deal.
As he has before, President Obama warned lawmakers during his State of the Union address on Tuesday to hold off on imposing any new sanctions until the negotiations conclude.
"New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails, alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again," Mr. Obama said. "It doesn't make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress."
On Wednesday, during a meeting with the House GOP conference, Boehner took square aim at the president's objections.
"He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran," Boehner told his caucus. "Two words: 'Hell no!' We're going to do no such thing."
During a news conference on Tuesday, the speaker said he did not consult with the White House before issuing the invitation -- "The Congress can make its decision on its own" -- but he also insisted, "I don't believe I'm poking anyone in the eye."
"There is a serious threat that exists in the world, and the president last night kind of papered over it," Boehner said. "And the fact is is that there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran."
Netanyahu has not yet responded to the speaker's offer, but aides to Boehner say they've been in consultation with the prime minister's office for several weeks and they expect the Israelis to formally accept the invitation before the end of the day.
The speech, if it goes forward, would also come just weeks before Israel's election in mid-march. Boehner's invitation is being interpreted by some as an attempt to aid Netanyahu's reelection by providing him a high-profile opportunity to address Israel's closest international ally.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Wednesday that Boehner's invitation "seems to be an attempt to intervene for Netanyhau in the Israeli elections."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak next week. He is invited to address Congress on Feb. 11.