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Netanyahu To Preview Speech To Congress Before AIPAC Conference

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Nentanyahu, is here in Washington, D.C. He's expected to give a controversial speech before Congress tomorrow. The Israeli leader accepted an invitation from Republicans. Democrats, including the president, were not consulted. Today, Netanyahu is previewing that speech during an appearance before AIPAC, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group. Here's NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama have never enjoyed a warm and fuzzy relationship. Normally, the AIPAC conference is an opportunity for the White House to show its support for Israel and its leaders. But this year, it wasn't clear it was going to send anyone. It was only at the last minute that it was announced two administration officials would attend. One of them, national security adviser Susan Rice, just last week criticized Netanyahu's decision to speak before Congress. She called his actions destructive to the relationship between the two countries, which have plummeted to a new low. The backdrop to this hostility is a deal that the U.S. and five other nations are working on to reign in Iran's nuclear program. Netanyahu doesn't want any deal with Iran.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

NORTHAM: Netanyahu said he will do everything in his power to secure Israelis and their future. He called his trip to Washington a fateful and even historic mission. But there's criticism of Netanyahu in Israel over the harm he's done to relations with the U.S., its most important ally. President Obama has refused to meet him, saying he doesn't want to influence Israeli elections in mid-March. Vice President Joe Biden will be out of town for the address to Congress. So, too, will Secretary of State John Kerry. He'll be meeting with Iranian officials in Switzerland. On Sunday, Kerry, speaking on ABC's "This Week," attempted to ease some of the tension, saying the administration doesn't want to see this turn into some great political football.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS")

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: The prime minister is welcome in the United States at any time. We have an unparalleled close security relationship with Israel, and we will continue to.

NORTHAM: Still, Kerry made it clear the Obama administration wants to use diplomacy with Iran. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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