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US-Israel crisis deepens over Netanyahu’s Congress speech

Sources in Israel claim that relations with America are worsening as the Obama administration is taking steps to undermine Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington next month. The Israeli prime minister is scheduled to address Congress while he is in the US capital.

AFP reported on Sunday that the White House is using a cold-shoulder strategy in response to Netanyahu’s indifference towards the administration. Steps taken, claims AFP, would include sending a lower-ranking official than normal to represent the administration at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Netanyahu has, apparently, also been described as “thankless” by US officials.

AIPAC said that it has not yet received any reply to its invitation for senior administration figures to attend the meeting that starts on 1 March. The White House has been signalling for some time that a senior representative may not be attending the meeting.

Other steps to be taken in protest at Netanyahu’s proposed speech to Congress include a presidential interview with a prominent journalist known for coverage of the rift between Obama and Netanyahu, and multiple TV appearances by senior national security aides. The downgrading of the representative at the AIPAC event would be a pointed snub of America’s leading pro-Israel lobby group.

The White House and state department have both accused Israeli officials publicly of leaking “cherry-picked” details of the negotiations with Iran to try to discredit the Obama administration. In an extraordinary measure last week, officials acknowledged that the US is withholding sensitive details of the talks from Israel to prevent such leaks reoccurring.

Netanyahu’s plan for a 3 March address to a joint meeting of Congress has further strained tense ties between the US and Israel. Republicans in Congress orchestrated Netanyahu’s visit without consulting the White House or state department, a move blasted by the Obama administration as a breach of diplomatic protocol.

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