PHILADELPHIA (AP) — House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is still peeved over Republicans' decision to ask the leader of Israel — an archenemy of Iran — to address Congress in March right in the middle of delicate negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.
Asked Friday if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be well-advised to speak out in favor of heavier sanctions on Iran somewhere other than a joint meeting of Congress, Pelosi said "the opportunities are great," and noted that the Israeli leader often appears on Sunday talk shows in the U.S.
She also was asked if most House Democrats would attend a Netanyahu speech to Congress. "I don't know," Pelosi replied.
"With all the respect in the world for the prime minister, and all the love in the world for the state of Israel, I don't know that even everyone in Israel is supportive of the invitation," she told journalists at a Democratic retreat in Philadelphia.
Netanyahu has been an outspoken critic of the international efforts to negotiate a deal with Iran, which does not recognize the Jewish state, and supports anti-Israeli militants like Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.
He's sensitive, though, to Israel's important relationship with the United States.
This week, Netanyahu called Pelosi, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, in hopes of blunting their opposition to the invitation he got from House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress.
Congressional aides say the calls so far have not changed the minds of the senior Democrats, who think the invitation turns sensitive international negotiations to reach an agreement that would prevent Iran from having the capability to develop a nuclear weapon into a partisan ploy.
They say none of the Democratic leaders who spoke with Netanyahu on the phone asked the Israeli leader not to speak to Congress on March 3.
The timing of the speech is at issue too.
March 3 is just 21 days ahead of when the U.S. and its international partners are supposed to have reached a framework agreement with Iran — one that would provide an outline for a more comprehensive deal set to be finalized by the end of June.
Senate Democrats this week offered to withhold their support for legislation that would levy more sanctions on Iran until after March 24, and only then if it doesn't look like a final deal is going to materialize. Netanyahu's speech, in which he likely would reiterate his opposition to Iran, would be broadcast from Capitol Hill just as negotiators were trying to wrap up the framework.
Boehner has defended his decision, saying the House is an equal branch of government and has the right to invite the Israeli leader to "talk to the members of Congress about the serious threat that Iran poses and the serious threat of radical Islam."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., doesn't see it that way. In a statement Friday, Nadler criticized Boehner, saying he had "demonstrated that he is willing to play childish games with our most serious questions of war and peace, and is equally willing to put partisan advantage over Israel's security."
Riechmann reported from Washington.