WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry tried to lower the temperature on Sunday in the three-way fight among congressional Republicans, the Obama administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, saying that Mr. Netanyahu was welcome to speak in the United States.
But Mr. Kerry also said that it was “odd, if not unique” that the administration learned of the Israeli leader’s coming address to Congress not through diplomatic channels, but from Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and that the “administration was not included in the process.”
Mr. Kerry’s comments, on the ABC program “This Week,” were the latest salvo in the escalating back-and-forth over Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation from congressional Republicans to speak on Tuesday about his concerns over negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.
Mr. Netanyahu is expected to criticize an emerging agreement that many in Israelfear will leave Iran with a substantial infrastructure with which to pursue the development of nuclear weapons when the accord expires. But many Obama administration officials believe the negotiations could lead to one of the president’s most significant foreign policy achievements.
Critics of Mr. Netanyahu’s decision describe it as a sign of disregard from an ally that relies heavily on American aid and diplomatic backing.
Mr. Kerry made that point during his television interview, which was broadcast as he left for talks in Switzerland with Iran’s foreign minister. “We have intervened on Israel’s behalf, in the last two years, more than several hundred — a couple of hundred times in over 75 different fora in order to protect Israel,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that “the administration is not seeking to politicize this.”
To buttress this point, a senior State Department official said Mr. Kerry would defend Israel on Monday before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, which the United States asserts has been biased against Israel’s record.
Mr. Kerry plans to make a strong statement about “our hope that the council will continue to shift its focus away from Israel and really focus on the bad human rights violators,” said the official en route to Geneva, who cannot be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters.
Mr. Obama has maintained that a nuclear deal with Iran can help assure Israeli security, particularly given that neither the United States nor its European allies in the Iran negotiations are interested in military action to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Mr. Kerry said that Israel is safer because of the short-term agreement that world powers reached with Iran in 2013, and that the United States is trying now to get an improved deal.
One potential compromise under consideration would see Iran’s nuclear enrichment curtailed for at least 10 years and then gradually eased during the later years of the accord in return for an eventual lifting of economic sanctions.
“Our hope is that diplomacy can work,” Mr. Kerry said. “And I believe, given our success on the interim agreement, we deserve the benefit of the doubt to find out whether or not we can get a similarly good agreement with respect to the future.”
Mr. Kerry spoke by phone with Mr. Netanyahu on Saturday, the State Department said. A senior State Department official, who declined to be identified in describing a private telephone conversation, said the discussion focused on the current state of the Iran talks, Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Washington and Mr. Kerry’s concern about the financial plight of the Palestinian Authority.
Mr. Kerry often speaks with Mr. Netanyahu but the growing tensions in American-Israeli relations because of the Iran talks have made the conversations more significant.
The United States and its negotiating partners are striving to meet an end-of-March deadline for negotiating the outline of an accord.