WASHINGTON (AP) — A “surprised” White House bristled Monday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly canceled a trip to Washington.
The U.S. insisted that President Barack Obama had offered a meeting but was turned down.
Netanyahu had been expected to visit later in March on a trip coinciding with a major pro-Israel group’s annual summit. The White House said Israel had proposed two dates for a meeting between the leaders and the U.S. had offered to meet on one of those days.
“We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council. “We were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit.”
The unusually pointed pushback from the White House was the latest signal of ongoing tensions between the U.S. and its closest Mideast ally, which have never fully recovered since Obama incensed Netanyahu’s government by pursuing and then enacting a nuclear deal with Iran. The flare-up comes just days before Vice President Joe Biden is set to meet with Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem.
Netanyahu’s office declined to comment.
The White House disputed reports in the Israeli media that said Netanyahu canceled the trip after the White House had been unable to find a date for a meeting that worked with Obama’s schedule. Price said those suggestions were false.
This isn’t the first time Obama had been caught off guard by Netanyahu’s travel plans. Last year, the White House accused Netanyahu of a breach of longstanding diplomatic protocol when he announced plans to speak to a joint session of Congress without consulting or notifying the president. Netanyahu used that speech to implore U.S. lawmakers to reject the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel sees as emboldening its archenemy.