WASHINGTON -- Israel's ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer informed the White House that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was likely to cancel his planned visit to Washington next week, the premier's office said on Monday night, responding to accusations from the Obama administration that it was caught off guard by news of his change in plans.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu clarified that the reason for the cancellation of his visit was because of the heated US presidential election.
Earlier on Monday, White House officials said Obama had already penciled in a meeting with Netanyahu on March 18. They expressed disappointment in his decision to cancel the meeting, and referred The Jerusalem Post to the government of Israel for an explanation of the schedule change.
"Last Friday, during a meeting at the White House, Ambassador Dermer expressed the prime minister's appreciation for the president's willingness to meet the PM if he came to Washington to attend AIPAC's Policy Conference," the prime minister's office said on Monday night. "However, the ambassador also informed the White House that there is a good chance that the prime minister would not be coming to Washington and that a final decision would be taken on Monday after he had met with the prime minister."
Dermer also informed a senior AIPAC official last week that Netanyahu's trip was unlikely, the statement reads.
"On Monday, news reports suggested that [Netanyahu] would not be traveling to Washington and erroneously stated that the President was unwilling to meet with [him]," it continued. "The [prime minister's office] immediately corrected the erroneous news reports and officially informed the administration that the PM would not be coming to Washington."
Netanyahu looks forward to meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently traveling the region, the statement added.
On Monday, the White House said it was surprised to learn from the media that Netanyahu had turned down an invitation to meet with Obama on March 18th. It had issued the invitation at Israel’s request.
The two leaders last spoke face-to-face in November. That much anticipated meeting followed a long tense period between Netanyahu and Obama over their disagreement with regard to the Iran deal designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu had considered traveling to Washington later this month to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which is holding its annual conference on March 20-22.
"The Israeli government requested a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu on March 17 or 18," National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told The Jerusalem Post.
"Two weeks ago, the White House offered the prime minister a meeting on March 18th. 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. Reports that we were not able to accommodate the prime minister's schedule are false,” Price said.
The Prime Minister’s Office on Monday night said that Netanyahu would address AIPAC via satellite and would not travel to the US.