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White House says it learned of cancellation from the media

Netanyahu nixes US trip, says he rejected Obama offer to meet

Official says PM fears visit to AIPAC conference later this month could embroil him in US presidential contest

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk away after a news conference at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk away after a news conference at the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Prime Minister’s Office said Monday evening that Benjamin Netanyahu will not be traveling to the US later this month to attend the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, and will also miss a potential meeting with US President Barack Obama.

The prime minister will instead address the conference on March 20 via satellite.

The statement from the PMO thanked Obama for offering to meet with the prime minister on March 18, ahead of the president’s historic trip to Cuba, but said that Netanyahu had decided against making the trip to the US.

The White House said after the announcement that it found out about the cancellation through the media.

A senior Israeli official earlier cited Tuesday’s upcoming visit to Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden, and fears that the prime minister could inadvertently become entangled in the American presidential campaign, as likely reasons for the decision to skip the AIPAC confab.

“At the moment, it looks like we’re not going to Washington,” the official told The Times of Israel ahead of the official announcement. “The thinking is that we’re seeing Biden this week and the assumption is that in the discussion with Biden all the issues will come up.”

The official added: “Also, at AIPAC, many of the presidential candidates are giving speeches and might ask for meetings with the PM. We don’t want to get involved in the US election process.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

The White House said Monday that it proposed a March 18 meeting two weeks ago, and only learned through the media that Netanyahu had decided to cancel his trip, Reuters reported.

“We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit,” White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in an emailed statement, according to Reuters.

“Reports that we were not able to accommodate the prime minister’s schedule are false,” Price said. Obama departs for Cuba on March 21.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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