The U.S. State Department offered on Tuesday an original explanation for why Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is on a five-country tour of the Middle East, doesn't include a short stop in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to her best friend Julie, who lives in the Midwest.
"Look, putting together these trips is very complicated," Nauert explained. "You have to pull together a lot of different people’s schedules at the same time, and make sure that they are completely in sync. As you well know, we have a very strong relationship with Israel. We have a strong relationship with the Israeli people and the Government of Israel. There is no question about that."
After mentioning that Tillerson "had a 21-minute phone call" with Benjamin Netanyahu during the past weekend, Nauert got to the more personal part of her explanation.
"I kind of liken that to my relationship with my best friend from junior high school, Julie," Nauert said. "She lives in the Midwest. Every time I go to the Midwest, I don’t get to see my friend Julie. Every time that Secretary Tillerson is going to go to the Middle East, he’s not going to be able to hit every single country."
Nauert then added that "there is no doubt in the mind of the Israeli Government officials or our government officials that our bond is strong. And had the prime minister asked Secretary Tillerson to join him there, which he never did, I imagine if our schedules coincided, that we would have done that, but we were not asked to do so."
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During his tour, Tillerson is visiting Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
Earlier this week, a State Department official told Haaretz that while there were "no plans" for Tillerson to visit Israel, he was "keeping close tabs" on the situation between Israel and Syria.
The secretary has come under some criticism for not including Israel on his itinerary in light of the recent tensions between Israel and Iran on the Syrian border.
In addition, the official said that Tillerson was using his visit in the region's capitals to recruit support for the administration's upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace plan."