Netanyahu Cancels Visit to U.S.; White House: PM Opted Out of Obama Meet

'We were surprised to first learn via media reports that the Prime Minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit,' angry White House says, after sources at PM's bureau claimed no appropriate time for meeting was found ahead of AIPAC confab.

AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled a trip to the United States, where he had planned to attend the conference of the pro-Israel lobby the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC

The White House was outraged at the cancelation, after it was reported that among the reasons given for scrapping the trip was that it was not possible to schedule a meeting with President Barack Obama. According to the White House, Netanyahu was in fact invited to meet the president and the adminstration only learned of the cancelation through the media.  

AFP

Initially, sources at Netanyahu's bureau said the Prime Minister's Office explored the possibility of moving up Netanyahu's arrival in the U.S. capital to March 18, ahead of the AIPAC conference and the president's historical visit to Cuba on the same day, but that despite contact with the White House on the matter, no appropriate time was found for the meeting. As a result, Netanyahu decided not to attend the AIPAC event. 

But an outraged White House claimed the opposite was true. Ned Price, the spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, said that two weeks ago Netanyahu was offered a meeting with Obama on March 18.

"We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports  that the Prime Minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit," he said. "Reports that we were not able to accommodate the Prime Minister's schedule are false."

Following the Americans' angry response, sources at Netanyahu's bureau clarified that the prime minister decided not to go to Washington at the height of the presidential primaries as U.S. presidential candidates from both parties were set to attend the AIPAC conference and had requested meetings with Netanyahu, something that could create the impression of intervention by the prime minister in support of one or another candidate.

"We wanted to prevent such a situation," a source at Netanyahu's bureau said.

Sources in the prime minister's bureau also noted that another factor leading to the cancelation was the fact that talks to reach agreement on a new U.S. military aid package for Israel have yet to yield results, with the two sides still in disagreement over the terms.

"Netanyahu appreciates President Obama's willingness to meet him in Washington on Friday ahead of the conference and before the president's trip to Cuba," said the source. Instead of addressing the conference in person, Netanyahu will give a speech via a satellite link.

According to the prime minister's bureau, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer expressed Netanyahu's appreciation of Obama's willingness to meet with him should he decide to travel to Washington during a meeting at the White House last Friday.

However, it said, Dermer also noted that there was a good chance that the prime minister would not get to Washington, and that a final answer would be given on Monday after he discussed the matter with the prime minister.

Monday night's reports that Obama was unwilling to meet with Netanyahu were wrong, the bureau said, adding that following the reports it had formally updated the U.S. administration that Netanyahu would not be traveling to Washington.

On the backdrop of tensions surrounding the cancelation of Netanyahu's visit to the U.S., Vice President Biden will arrive in Israel Tuesday. Biden will arrive in the late afternoon and will meet former President Shimon Peres. On Wednesday, Biden will meet with Netanyahu and with President Reuven Rivlin. Later in the day he will travel to Ramallah and meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.