March 20, 2015 / 10:19 AM / in 3 years

U.S. House Speaker Boehner to visit Israel

JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - John Boehner, Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the center of a political furor in Washington over relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will visit Israel in coming weeks, his office said on Friday.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reacts during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The trip, Boehner’s first to Israel in seven years, follows Netanyahu’s surprise election victory on Tuesday and his March 3 speech to Congress criticizing President Barack Obama’s Iran policy at Boehner’s invitation, an event that angered the White House.

Shortly after Boehner returns to Washington, Congress will begin considering legislation backed by skeptical Republicans that would force Obama to submit any Iran nuclear agreement for Congress’ approval.

Aides dismissed suggestions that the trip was a victory lap by Boehner, a long-time supporter of Netanyahu, and said it was planned long before the speech or the elections.

Boehner’s spokesman Kevin Smith said the Republican congressional leader would visit Israel while Congress is on recess between March 27 and April 13. He declined to say exactly when Boehner would travel or who was traveling with him.

“He looks forward to visiting the country, discussing our shared priorities for peace and security in the region, and further strengthening the bond between the United States and Israel,” Smith said.

Diplomats in Israel said Boehner’s delegation was expected to include only fellow Republicans, and said it would take place before the end of March. Officials in the prime minister’s office and at the U.S. embassy in Israel had no immediate comment.

Boehner angered Obama and congressional Democrats by inviting Netanyahu to address lawmakers just two weeks before the Israeli election, without informing the president in advance.

While campaigning, Netanyahu further upset the White House by disavowing a commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has long been a cornerstone of U.S.-led peace efforts.

Netanyahu has since tried to row back on the rhetoric, saying on U.S. television that he supported a two-state solution when the conditions were right. He received a congratulatory phone call from Obama.

But the White House has said it will “reassess” its options on U.S.-Israeli ties given Netanyahu’s remarks, raising the prospect of a tense period in the coming months between the two leaders.

Reporting by Luke Baker and Dan Williams; in Jerusalem and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; editing by David Storey and Howard Goller

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