Netanyahu’s London trip to meet Pompeo said nixed after veto from UK officials

Netanyahu’s London trip to meet Pompeo said nixed after veto from UK officials

UK reportedly says not enough notice given for PM’s visit on NATO sidelines; Merkel, Macron said not eager to meet him amid criticism on Iran moves

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to his residence in Jerusalem on March 21, 2019. (Jim Young/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to his residence in Jerusalem on March 21, 2019. (Jim Young/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not fly to London on Tuesday to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the sidelines of a NATO summit, a senior official told Channel 13 news on Monday.

According to the report, the UK government said that logistically it cannot accommodate Netanyahu on such short notice in addition to the other world leaders and their delegations who are attending the conference.

The Haaretz newspaper reported that the British officials were unhappy that this was to be the second time in recent months that Netanyahu planned a trip to London just to meet with US officials — this time with short notice, at an event with multiple delegations in need of security and just days after the British capital was hit by a terror attack.

In September, Netanyahu flew to London to meet with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The spontaneously planned trip raised some eyebrows among political analysts, given the turmoil then engulfing the British political system that was sure to take priority over any other matter in 10 Downing Street. He held talks with Johnson, who was facing a revolt within his Conservative party over his controversial plan to leave the European Union.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside 10 Downing Street in central London on September 5, 2019. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

According to Hebrew-language reports, Netanyahu plans instead to meet with Pompeo in Lisbon, Portugal, later this week.

Channel 13 reported Monday that the prime minister would fly to the British capital for talks with Pompeo, and would spend two days meeting with world leaders, pressing them about Iran and its recent withdrawal from commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal.

The trip was not confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Israel is not a member of NATO and Netanyahu is not an invitee to the conference. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is holding a two-day gathering of member heads of state and government on December 3-4.

In addition to Pompeo, the prime minister reportedly planned to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron, as well as other leaders.

Sources told Haaretz that Merkel and Macron rebuffed inquiries about meeting with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the summit.

Illustrative: French President Emmanuel Macron, left, speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, June 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

A trip to London by Netanyahu in the coming days could be seen to be inopportune for Johnson, given the NATO summit, a terror attack in central London on Friday that left two dead, and a general election in 10 days.

In addition, the reports of the cancellation of the trip came as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit released a new version of the charges against Netanyahu and clarified that the 30-day period for him to request to be granted parliamentary immunity by the Knesset has now officially begun.

The reports of the canceled trip came a day after Netanyahu lambasted European nations for seeking to circumvent circumvent US sanctions on Iran.

“While the Iranian regime is killing its own people, European countries rush to support that very murderous regime,” Netanyahu said in a video, castigating the six new European members of the INSTEX barter mechanism and lamenting that European nations were in a “rush to appease” Tehran.

A technician at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, February 3, 2007. (AP/Vahid Salemi/File)

A 2015 international nuclear agreement set out restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions. The deal was opposed by Israel, which argued that Iran’s regime would find ways to violate the agreement, and would use the breathing room to expand its ballistic missile program and support for terror groups throughout the region.

Last year, the US unilaterally withdrew from the deal and reinstated crippling sanctions against Tehran.

The INSTEX system is designed to sidestep the sanctions and keep the deal afloat, functioning as a clearing house allowing Iran to continue to sell oil and import other products or services in exchange. The system has not yet enabled any transactions.

Aman exchanges Iranian Rials for US Dollars at an exchange shop in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on August 8, 2018. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare/File)

The accession of the six new members “further strengthens INSTEX and demonstrates European efforts to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran,” France, Germany, and Britain said on Saturday.

It represents “a clear expression of our continuing commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” — the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal — the trio added. They insisted Iran must return to full compliance with its commitments under the deal “without delay.”

Iran has gradually increased enrichment and the stockpiling of nuclear material in contravention of the 2015 agreement. European countries have expressed alarm at Iran’s moves, but say they remain committed to the nuclear accord.

US President Donald Trump spoke Sunday with Netanyahu, with the two leaders focusing talks on “the threat from Iran,” the White House said.

“The leaders discussed the threat from Iran, as well as other critical bilateral and regional issues,” a brief statement said late Sunday. There was no immediate readout on the call from Israel.

The two last spoke on November 19, when Netanyahu thanked the president for Washington’s decision to repudiate a State Department legal opinion that said West Bank settlements were illegal.

Though Netanyahu and Trump were once close allies who touted their friendship to their respective bases, ties between the two have been seen as cooling in recent months as the Israeli premier has struggled to cling to power. Netanyahu has also reportedly become uneasy with what he perceives as Trump’s unwillingness to stand up to Iranian aggression.

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