President Reuven Rivlin spoke on the phone on Wednesday with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to smooth things over Rivlin's cancellation of a planned visit to Australia last week.
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Instead of visiting Australia, Rivlin met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. A senior Israeli source said that Rivlin explained the critical nature of his meeting with Putin to the Australian premier, in the light of recent developments in Syria.
The official, who asked to remain anonymous, stressed that the call with Turnbull had been long and conducted in a good atmosphere. Rivlin expressed his regret at having to cancel the visit, which he said he had been looking forward to.
Rivlin emphasized that Israel regards Australia as one of its best and closest friends. He told Turnbull about his visit to Australia as Knesset Speaker and expressed his gratitude for all the aid that Australia provides Israel.
The two also discussed the situation in Syria and in the Middle East in general during the call, the official said.
"Rivlin clarified to the Australian prime minister that the tactical and strategic situation in the region made it imperative for him to meet with Putin in Russia and stressed that he would be happy to visit Australia at any mutually compatible time," the source said.
The official said that the Australian leader thanked Rivlin for the phone call and for voicing regret at postponing his visit. Turnbull told Rivlin that the Australian government was disappointed by his decision to opt for visiting Moscow instead of Australia, but did note the strong friendship between the two nations. "We are good friends and the ties between the two countries was very strong, full of mutual respect and based on decency," Turnbull told Rivlin, expressing hope the two could meet soon.
Last week, the President's Residence announced it was canceling Rivlin's visit to Australia, only two weeks after first announcing the president's intention of visiting the country. It was meant to be the first visit of an Israeli president there since 2005. The reason given was an invitation extended by Putin to Rivlin to visit him in Moscow. Rivlin was expected to fly to Australia on March 13 and return to Israel on March 22, with the possible dates for the Moscow visit, between March 14-18, overlapping.
Officials in the President's Residence said at the time Rivlin made his final decision after a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, during which he stressed that meeting Putin was currently more important in terms of Israeli policy. "Because of regional developments related to the events in the Middle East, and the need for a meeting between the presidents of Israel and Russia in Moscow, the president is forced to postpone his trip to Australia, which was scheduled [for the same time]," the President's Residence said. "The decision was made in consultation with the relevant bodies in the foreign service and with the prime minister."
The cancellation of the trip has aroused a large amount of anger in Australia. Australian officials said the schedules of the Australian prime minister and many government ministers were rearranged in order to adapt them to Rivlin's visit. The Australians were furious too that Rivlin preferred to fly to see Putin in Moscow over Canberra, where he would meet with head of one of the friendliest countries to Israel.