Obama to avoid meeting with Netanyahu
WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM - Reuters
This March 5, 2012 file photo shows US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) during meetings in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP photoIn a highly unusual rebuff to a close ally, the White House said yesterday that President Barack Obama would not meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a U.S. visit later this month, as tensions escalated over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program.
The apparent snub, coupled with Netanyahu's sharpened demands for a tougher U.S. line against Iran, threatened to plunge U.S.-Israeli relations into crisis and add pressure on Obama in the final stretch of a tight presidential election campaign.
An Israeli official said the White House had refused Netanyahu's request to meet Obama when the Israeli leader visits the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly, telling the Israelis "the president's schedule will not permit that."
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor denied Netanyahu's request had been spurned, insisting instead that the two leaders were attending the General Assembly on different days and would not be in New York at the same time.
Netanyahu has had a strained relationship with Obama, but they have met on all but one of his U.S trips since 2009. The president was on a foreign visit when the prime minister came to the United States in November 2010.
By withholding a meeting, Obama could alienate some Jewish and pro-Israel voters as he seeks a second term in the Nov. 6 election. Republican rival Mitt Romney has already accused Obama of being too tough on Israel and not hard enough on Iran.
The White House's decision could signal U.S. displeasure with the Israeli leader's intensifying pressure for Obama to set specific red lines on Iran.
Word that the two men would not meet came on the same day that Netanyahu said the United States had forfeited its moral right to stop Israel from taking action against Iran's nuclear program because it had refused to be firm with Tehran itself.
Netanyahu has argued that setting a clear boundary for Iran's uranium enrichment activities and imposing stronger economic sanctions could deter Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and mitigate the need for military action.
In comments that appeared to bring the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran closer, Netanyahu took Washington to task for rebuffing his call to set a "red line" for Iran's nuclear program, which has already prompted four rounds of U.N. sanctions.
"The world tells Israel 'wait, there's still time.' And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?'" said Netanyahu, speaking in English.
"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," he added, addressing a news conference with Bulgaria's prime minister.