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Feb 26, 8:09 AM EST

Israeli opposition leader to PM: Cancel Congress speech

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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's opposition leader on Thursday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his upcoming speech to the U.S. Congress, saying it will cause "strategic damage" to ties with Washington.

Isaac Herzog, head of the opposition Labor Party, has led a chorus of voices in Israel urging Netanyahu to renege and not deliver the speech, which was engineered with congressional Republicans without the knowledge of the White House. The move has driven a wedge between Israel and its most important ally, the United States.

"I call on Netanyahu again: Stop. Enough, Bibi, enough. You aren't going. Don't go. You will cause strategic damage to Israel's standing and to the relationship with the United States," Herzog said at a press conference, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

Herzog also condemned Netanyahu's decision not to meet with Senate Democrats when he goes to Washington next week, saying the prime minister is "playing politics inside American politics." In turning down the offer, Netanyahu said such a meeting could "compound the misperception of partisanship" surrounding his visit.

Netanyahu has said he is determined to deliver the speech in order to press his case against an emerging international deal on Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. and Israel have escalated their public spat over the speech.

Netanyahu accused world powers of rolling over to allow Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. Secretary of State John Kerry openly questioned Netanyahu's judgment on the issue and National Security Adviser Susan Rice called the speech "destructive" to U.S.-Israel ties.

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