The White House was surprised to learn from the media on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had turned down an invitation to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington DC 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.
“The prime minister decided not to travel to Washington at the current time at the height of the US election season,” PMO officials said. “The prime minister appreciates that President [Barack] Obama would have met with him in advance of the conference and his planned trip to Cuba.”
Obama is slated to visit Cuba for an historic state visit on March 20.
Netanyahu, who has skipped traveling to AIPAC twice since taking office, in 2009 and 2013, had never publicly committed to making the trip.
Last week, The Jerusalem Post
reported that the prime minister might skip the trip because Obama was scheduled to be in Cuba at the time.
US Vice President Joe Biden is set to arrive in Israel on Tuesday, after a visit in the United Arab Emirates. He and Netanyahu will meet on Wednesday.
Speaking about the visit in the Knesset plenum, Netanyahu said that it "reflects the strength of relations between Israel and it’s largest and most important ally.”