Obama Rejects Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu....
Published September 11, 2012
The White House moved Tuesday to tamp down emerging claims that
it had turned down an offer by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
to meet with President Obama later this month, as Republicans seized on
Israeli officials confirmed to Fox News earlier in
the day that the White House had indeed brushed off such an offer. A
White House spokesman also confirmed that Obama is not expected to meet
with Netanyahu, citing scheduling conflicts.
But late Tuesday,
the White House released a statement denying that any formal offer was
made for a meeting in the capital -- without saying whether an offer was
made for a meeting elsewhere, like New York. “Contrary to reports in
the press, there was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to
meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting
ever denied,” the statement said.
The White House went on to say
that Obama had just gotten off an hour-long phone call with the prime
minister “as a part of their ongoing consultations,” and that the two
discussed the Iranian nuclear threat.
The unusual statement from the
White House signaled the president’s team was acting quickly to contain
the controversy. The seemingly chilly response to Netanyahu was already
being interpreted as a snub among Israel’s biggest defenders -- and it
comes amid a state of heightened alert over Iran’s nuclear program and
the possibility of Israeli action.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.,
and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said earlier they were “surprised and
disappointed” by the initial reports.
“If these reports are true,
the White House's decision sends a troubling signal to our ally Israel
about America's commitment at this dangerous and challenging time,
especially as Iran continues to work actively toward developing a
nuclear weapons capability,” they said.
Aside from initial
reports in Israeli media, Israeli sources described the meeting offer to
Fox News. They said that Netanyahu, though he plans to be in New York
City during his brief stay, was offering to travel to D.C. to make the
meeting happen. However, the White House apparently said Obama’s tight
schedule -- the president is in the middle of a feverish campaign run --
would make a meeting difficult.
White House spokesman Tommy
Vietor confirmed to Fox News that Obama is not expected to meet with
Netanyahu, though insisted it was just a scheduling problem. He said
Obama will be at the United Nations on Sept. 24 and leave the following
day, while Netanyahu won’t be in the city until later in the week.
“They're simply not in the city at the same time,” Vietor said.
also said Netanyahu and Obama are in “frequent contact,” and that
Netanyahu has instead been offered meetings with Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and other top officials.
In addition, a senior
administration official told Fox News that the president will be
addressing the U.N. General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative
when in New York. But he will not be having one-on-one meetings with
world leaders so this should not be seen as a snub of Netanyahu.
the turn-down comes amid increasing international anxiety about Iran’s
nuclear program. The U.N. reportedly has found new intelligence showing
Iran is moving toward nuclear weapon capability.
And the exchange
between the White House and the prime minister’s office is the most
recent in what is seen as a cool, if not strained, relationship between
Obama and Netanyahu, despite Israel being considered one of the United
States’ closest allies.
“I’m astounded that (Obama) cannot find
the time,” former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton
said. “I don’t see it so much as a snub as a horrible, substantive
mistake in American foreign policy.”
One well-placed Jewish-American
leader told Fox News that the White House has not yet fully ruled out
moving things around on the schedule to accommodate Netanyahu. But as of
now, Obama is scheduled to be on the campaign trail during the window
of time when Netanyahu can make it to Washington “Discussions are
ongoing,” the source emphasized.
Asked about relations between
the two men, the source acknowledged they “are not warm and fuzzy” and
that there is “a lot of tension” between the two governments, given the
gravity of the issues under consideration. But overall, the source said
the alliance remains strong, particularly in terms of
military-to-military cooperation, and even in day-to-day interactions
“up to and including the prime minister.
Republicans were quick, though, to pounce on the news.
Ted Poe, R-Texas, tweeted: “How ironic that the #POTUS has time for
high dollar $40K-a-head fundraiser with @JayZ and @Beyonce but not for
the PM of Israel.”
The prime minister’s office told the White
House that Netanyahu’s official visit will be short, starting on a
Thursday and ending at sundown Friday because of the Sabbath.
is staying in the U.S. through Sunday. One Israeli source said he
“wouldn’t be surprised if things changed” regarding a meeting by the
time Netanyahu arrives.
Netanyahu will still travel to speak at the United Nations headquarters.
on Tuesday, Netanyahu launched an unprecedented critique of the U.S.
government and others over their stance on the Iranian nuclear program,
according to the English-language news site Haaretz.
Says Netanyahu: "The world
tells Israel 'wait, there's still time,’” the site quotes Netanyahu as
saying. “And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the
international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't
have a moral right to place a red light before Israel."
increased economic sanctions on Iran but has yet to define the
so-called “red line” -- which, should Iran cross it, would theoretically
result in military action.
"Now if Iran knows that there is no
red line … what will it do?” Netanyahu asked Tuesday. “Exactly what it's
doing. It's continuing, without any interference, towards obtaining
nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs."
upset Israel supporters last week when they removed language in the
party platform that acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
president, though, had the words re-inserted and said in his acceptance
speech that the country’s commitment to Israel's security “must not
“And neither must our pursuit of peace,” he continued.
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