Israel PM agrees to address US Congress in early March

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday accepted an invitation to address the US Congress about Iran and Islamic extremism.

Netanyahu's office said he had agreed to speak at a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives in early March following an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner.

Netanyahu said he had recently spoken with US President Barak Obama about "the joint challenges facing us from extremist Islamists, including growing terror and Iran's ambition to obtain nuclear arms.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to share Israel’s vision on joint action to deal with these threats and to stress Israel’s commitment to the bond that unites our two democracies," Netanyahu said.

On Wednesday, Boehner, a Republican and prominent Obama adversary,invited the Israeli premier to address a joint session on February 11, which caught Washington off guard.

But Boehner said Thursday the date was pushed back to March 3 at Netanyahu's request to enable him to participate in the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a Washington-based lobby highly supportive of Israel.

Boehner's invitation comes at a time when the administration and other world powers are engaged in crucial negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

It also comes just two weeks before a snap March 17 election in Israel, with Netanyahu's political opponents accusing him of setting it up to help his campaign.

The White House said Wednesday it had not "heard from the Israelis directly about the trip at all," adding that the invitation was a departure from protocol.

In his Thursday statement Netanyahu appeared to be trying to diminish diplomatic damage, saying the speech would be an opportunity for him to "thank President Barack Obama, the Congress and the American people for their support of Israel."

Israel and the United States are close allies, but personal relations between Obama and Netanyahu are said to be cool.

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