Obama doesn’t have time to meet me later this month, PM says in closed-door meeting

White House confirms that US president will not be In New York at same time as Netanyahu; says Israeli leader will meet with Clinton instead

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with US President Barack Obama in Washington, DC, last March (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with US President Barack Obama in Washington, DC, last March (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely not meet with US President Barack Obama during an upcoming trip to New York, Israeli media reported Tuesday evening.

In closed meetings, Netanyahu reportedly told advisers that Obama no longer had the time to meet the Israeli premier during the United Nations General Assembly later this month.

In the past several weeks, unnamed Jerusalem officials had said the two would plan to meet in late September; at the top of the agenda would be coordination regarding military action against Iran over its nuclear program.

“I want to meet with Obama the day after Yom Kippur and am even ready to travel to Washington for it,” Netanyahu said in closed-door meetings Tuesday, according to Channel 10. “Obama says there is no time, that it doesn’t fit in with his schedule.”

A White House spokesperson said Obama would only be at the United Nations General Assembly for the first 24 hours of the gathering, before Netanyahu arrives. The spokesperson added that Netanyahu would meet in New York with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Relations between Jerusalem and Washington soured in the last few days as the State Department rebuffed lobbying by Netanyahu to set a clear ultimatum for Iran.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu struck back, telling reporters that the US had no business telling Israel to hold off on military action when it would not back it up in creating a credible military threat.

“The world tells Israel to wait because there is still time. And I ask: Wait for what? Until when? 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,” Netanyahu said. “If Iran knows that there is no red line or deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it is doing today, i.e., continuing to work unhindered toward achieving a nuclear weapon.”

On Sunday, Clinton said that Washington still considers sanctions the best way to get Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. “We’re not setting deadlines,” she said.

A day later, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated Clinton’s statement, saying setting red lines was “not useful.” She added: “So, you know, we are absolutely firm about the president’s commitment here, but it is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, red lines.”

Jerusalem officials had said Foggy Bottom’s stance served to calm Iran.

Netanyahu’s recent calls for the international community to set clear red lines regarding the Iranian threat was understood by many analysts as a way to signal Israel’s willingness to hold back on a unilateral and uncoordinated strike on Iran, after growing international opposition to such a move became apparent in recent weeks.

The US believes time exists for diplomacy and sanctions to work against Iran’s nuclear program, while Israel says it is on a different timetable. However, Jerusalem would like US backing in any military action, which could set off a regional war.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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