(Bloomberg) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
will meet next week with the top Republican and Democrat in the
U.S. Senate after rejecting a request for a meeting from two of
the chamber’s key Democrats.

Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint meeting of
Congress on March 3 and is expected to focus his speech on U.S.
nuclear negotiations with Iran. Later in the day, he’ll meet
Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic
Minority Leader Harry Reid, according to a statement released
Thursday by McConnell’s office.

The Israeli leader’s speech to American lawmakers has
emerged as a new flashpoint in his already contentious relations
with and U.S. President Barack Obama. His acceptance of House
Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress without
consulting the White House has been called a breach of protocol
by the administration and escalated tensions between the two

Obama has ruled out meeting with Netanyahu while he’s in
Washington, saying it comes too close to Israel’s March 17
elections. White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice, in
an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS and Bloomberg Television
this week, said Netanyahu’s acceptance of Boehner’s invitation
injected partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship “which
is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric
of the relationship.”

While some Democrats have criticized Netanyahu’s decision
to address a joint session of Congress without a blessing from
the White House, Reid, a longtime Israel ally who is seeking re-election in 2016, has been reluctant to pile on.

AIPAC Appearances

Reid told the New York Times last month that he had advised
Netanyahu that the planned speech was hurting Israel’s standing
with Democrats but stopped short of telling the Israeli leader
to cancel it.

“It would have been wrong for me to say, ‘Don’t come,’”
Reid told the Times. “I wouldn’t do that.”

Rice and Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations, will represent the Obama administration at a pro-Israel
lobby group’s annual conference where Netanyahu is speaking the
day before his congressional appearance.

Both Rice and Power will deliver remarks to the group, the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said its spokesman,
Marshall Wittmann, in an e-mail Thursday. The organization
expects more than half of the Senate and two thirds of the House
of Representatives to be in attendance over the course of the
three-day conference in Washington, he said.

Meeting Rejected

The two administration officials will serve as a counter-point to Netanyahu, who has warned that a deal being negotiated
by the U.S. and other world powers with Iran on its nuclear
program is dangerous.

Netanyahu earlier this week declined an offer from Senators
Richard Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California to
meet privately with the Senate Democratic Caucus during his
visit. Durbin and Feinstein said in a letter to Netanyahu that
Boehner’s unilateral invitation to address lawmakers “threatens
to undermine the important bipartisan approach toward Israel.”

More than a dozen members of Congress have verified they
are not going to the speech, while others have been calling for
a postponement and are still deciding. Boehner, an Ohio
Republican, said most members plan to be in the chamber for the
speech and rejected Rice’s characterization.

“What is destructive is making a bad deal that paves the
way for a nuclear Iran,” he said Thursday at his weekly news

Iran Discussion

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he expected
Rice and Power will talk “at least a little bit” about how
diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon
serve the security interests of the U.S. and Israel.

“We are hopeful that we can get back to a place where the
national security of the United States, most importantly, but
also the national security of Israel can be enhanced,” he said.

Earnest said their appearance at AIPAC is consistent with
past instances of senior officials addressing the group. “If
it’s perceived by some as an effort to demonstrate bipartisan
support” between the U.S. and Israel, then “that would be
great,” he said.

The rift between Netanyahu and Obama hasn’t slowed security
and economic cooperation. Rice met last week with Netanyahu’s
National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen to discuss Iran and other
issues. Those talks went ahead even as administration officials
said the U.S. is withholding details about the Iran negotiations
because Israeli officials have leaked misleading information to
undermine a deal.

The issue will be brought to a head later next month. Along
with the Netanyahu speech and the Israeli elections,
negotiations with Iran face an end-of-month deadline for
reaching a framework political deal on the Islamic republic’s
nuclear program.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Kathleen Hunter in Washington at
Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at
Justin Sink in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Joe Sobczyk at
Jodi Schneider at
Michael Shepard, Justin Blum