No confirmation of PM-Obama meeting

Report Obama, PM to mee

February 21, 2010 16:43
3 minute read.

As of midday Sunday, neither Washington nor Jerusalem had yet confirmed reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would meet US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday evening, according to Israel Radio. After weeks of uncertainty and speculation of whether such an encounter would materialize, Netanyahu left Sunday morning for the United States without any firm details of an Obama meeting. On Monday morning, Netanyahu is due to address some 3,000 Jewish activists and leaders at the UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America's annual General Assembly who have gathered this year in Washington D.C. Netanyahu's spokesman Nir Hefetz said the prime minister was always happy to talk face-to-face with Obama, but was not concerned that no such conversation had been formally announced even as he was within hours of landing in the US. This trip was planned independent of an expectation that such a meeting would occur, Hefetz told Israel Radio, in an interview he conducted on the plane. "If the trip's objective had been to meet with the president of the United States than such a meeting would have been secured in advance of the trip. The prime minister decided to travel to Washington to address the second largest Jewish community in the world after Israel, the American Jewish community," said Hefetz. He wanted to update them on Israel's diplomatic situation including the Goldstone Commission's report, which accused Israel of war crimes, and the growing threat from Iran. Israeli officials are in daily contact with the White House and the State Department, said Hefetz. He added that Netanyahu held consultations with his advisers in his home until close to midnight on Saturday. He noted that both Obama and Netanyahu were relatively new to their offices and that it took time to build up a strong personal relationship. The wider relationship between Israel and the United States remains strong and is not dependent on one person or the other, Hefetz said. Earlier in the day, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said that a Netanyahu-Obama meeting appeared to be on the cards. "I won't be surprised at all if they meet, and then all the things said on the subject will be prove futile," he told Army Radio. Meanwhile, Obama has canceled his planned address to some 3,000 Jewish activists from North America at the UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America's annual General Assembly, which was scheduled for Tuesday, and instead will be attending a memorial ceremony in Fort Hood, Texas, for victims of the shooting at the military base there. However, "we are fortunate that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will address the GA on behalf of the Obama Administration," read a Saturday evening statement from the Jewish Federations of North America, announcing the change of plans. "In addition, a small group of top leaders from The Jewish Federations will meet with President Obama at the White House," the announcement continued. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who left on Saturday night for Washington, is set to speak on Monday both with US special envoy George Mitchell and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Barak is also expected to address the GA on Monday. Before his return on Wednesday, he is expected to talk with other senior government and security officials to discuss regional issues such as Iran and the stalled Israeli Palestinian peace talks. The two men head to Washington in the aftermath of an announcement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he does not intend to seek reelection. His announcement followed days of intense high-level meetings in the region by US Mideast Envoy George Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who unsuccessfully tried to revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks. Netanyahu is expected to leave Washington on Tuesday for Paris. Hilary Leila Krieger and Staff contributed to this report.

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