By DEB RIECHMANN
WASHINGTON (AP) – Senators in both parties squared off with the Obama administration Wednesday about whether the threat of new sanctions would scuttle nuclear talks with Iran as House Speaker John Boehner, without consulting the White House, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.
Netanyahu is a staunch opponent of Iran, and Boehner’s move to bring him before a joint meeting of Congress likely increases the chances of a congressional collision with the White House. Boehner said he did not consult with the White House about inviting Netanyahu.
“Congress can make this decision on its own. I don’t believe I am poking anyone in the eye,” the speaker said. “There is a serious threat that exists in the world. And the president last night kind of papered over it.”
The White House said the invitation was a breach of typical diplomatic protocol. Spokesman Josh Earnest, traveling with the president to Idaho, told reporters the administration would “reserve judgment until we have an opportunity to speak to the Israelis about their plans for the trip and about what he plans to say.”
The invitation was a coordinated effort involving Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with staff discussions beginning last year, according to a senior Republican aide.
Boehner contacted the Israeli ambassador earlier this month to assess Netanyahu’s interest and received a positive response. In turn, several dates were suggested, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the individual wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the private talks.
At a heated hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker vigorously pushed legislation that would allow Congress to take an up-down vote on any agreement that the Obama administration and its international partners reaches with Iran to prevent it from being able to develop a nuclear weapon.
Corker, now the committee chairman after the November elections gave the GOP control of the Senate, said he had talked directly with U.S., French and European Union negotiators, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Israeli intelligence officials and no one has said that permitting Congress to have an up-down vote would hamper the ongoing talks – and could even strengthen the U.S. position.
Ranking Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey reiterated his support for legislation he’s drafted with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., that would ramp up sanctions against Iran if a deal is not reached by July 6. The bill does not impose any new sanctions during the remaining timeline for negotiations, but if there’s no deal, the sanctions that were eased during the talks would be reinstated and then Iran would face new punitive measures in the months thereafter.
“The Iranians are playing for time. … After 18 months of stalling, Iran needs to know that there will be consequences for failure,” Menendez said.
Antony Blinken, deputy secretary of state, said any new sanctions and even legislation that would trigger new ones if a deal is not reached would not help and could provoke “Iran to walk away from the …read more