January 22, 2015 / 5:55 PM / 5 years ago

Obama will not meet Israel's Netanyahu on U.S. visit

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington October 1, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will not meet Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits Washington in March to address the U.S. Congress, the White House said on Thursday, a decision that could further escalate tensions between the leaders.

Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said the reason Obama was withholding an invitation for Oval Office talks with Netanyahu was to “avoid the appearance” of trying to influence Israeli elections later that month.

The U.S. decision was highly unusual because visiting leaders from Israel, a close U.S. ally, are almost always afforded talks with the American president.

Netanyahu announced earlier on Thursday that he would address Congress in a March visit likely to drive home differences with the Obama administration over Iran nuclear diplomacy. The White House had said the invitation, which was issued by Republican lawmakers without consulting Obama, was a breach of diplomatic protocol.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick

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