Israeli President Declines Invitation to Meet Obama

Talks between two presidents' offices had intensified in recent days, but Rivlin eventually had to decline, citing scheduling conflict.

Mark Neiman/GPO

The White House approached senior Israelis officials and advisers of President Reuven Rivlin on Saturday, to examine the possibility of a meeting between Rivlin and President Barack Obama during the former’s upcoming visit to the United States. Rivlin finally declined the American offer.

Rivlin will be in New York this week to speak at UN Headquarters, for an International Holocaust Remembrance Day event. The President’s Residence had informed U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in early December of Rivlin’s planned visit, and the information was conveyed to the White House.

A senior Israeli official said that at first Rivlin did not want to impose himself on Obama, and that he would be happy to go to Washington if invited by the White House. The deputy spokesman for the White House National Security Council, Alistair Baskey, said that Rivlin had asked in December about the possibility of a meeting as part of his visit to New York, and that there had been contacts between the two presidential bureaus over the matter in recent weeks.

The White House did not suggest a date for the meeting for some time, but on Saturday night contacts became more concrete. The White House suggested that Rivlin come to Washington toward the end of the week, after Obama returns from his trip to India and Saudi Arabia. The White House also updated the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

Journalist Chico Menashe first reported the talks regarding the visit on Sunday.

After consultations, Rivlin finally declined the American suggestion. His advisers explained to the Americans that the two leaders’ schedules do not overlap, because Rivlin is expected to return to Israel before Obama gets back to Washington.

However, beyond scheduling conflicts, it may be assumed that the high tension between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau over the latter’s planned speech to Congress contributed to Rivlin’s decision to forego a meeting at this time. Rivlin did not want a meeting to be perceived by either side as a political move.

The President’s Residence and the White House released coordinated statements last night identical in their wording, that there had been contact between the relevant parties in Israel regarding a meeting while Rivlin was in New York.

“At this stage, it has been agreed not to hold a meeting during his visit, due to the schedule constraints of both leaders, and that a meeting would be scheduled at a later date,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who was interviewed on Sunday morning news programs in the United States, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning that the relationship with Israel was “deep and abiding.”

“We think that, as a general matter, we, [the] United States, has stayed out of internal politics in the countries of our closest allies,” McDonough said. “That’s true whether it’s Great Britain, where we just recently had a visit from Prime Minister [David] Cameron a full four months before their election, or in Israel.”

McDonough told CNN that for the United States, ties with Israel were “the most important relationship we have in the world.” In an interview on Fox, McDonough stressed that Obama believes that the relationship with Israel should not be conducted based on party considerations.

McDonough’s statements came a few hours after Netanyahu, speaking at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, rejected criticism by the American administration and political opponents at home over his planned speech to Congress. “I will go anywhere I am invited in order to express Israel’s position on the Iranian issue,” he said.

In the coming weeks, the world powers could reach a framework agreement with Iran that would leave it a nuclear threshold state, which would first and foremost endanger Israel, Netanyahu told the cabinet.