The White House said Tuesday that President Obama won’t meet with Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits the United Nations later this month, a scheduling decision that’s widely seen as a snub to one of the most vocal critics of the administration’s Iran policy.
Also Tuesday, Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of hindering Israel’s ability to protect itself against a nuclear-armed Iran after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined over the weekend to identify the “red lines” that the administration will not allow Iran to cross in its nuclear program.
“The world tells Israel, ‘Wait. There’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait 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.”
He made the remarks at a press conference alongside visiting Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. Netanyahu and other hawks in his administration are seeking to build public support for a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, something the United States and many Israeli military officials believe is premature.
Clinton on Sunday said that the administration is “not setting deadlines” on Iran.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended Clinton’s stance at his press briefing Monday. “We believe that there remains time and space for [sanctions and diplomacy] to bear fruit,” he said.
The White House denies any snub.
“The president arrives in New York for the U.N. on Monday, Sept. 24 and departs on Tuesday, Sept. 25,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an emailed statement. “The prime minister doesn’t arrive in New York until later in the week. They’re simply not in the city at the same time. But the president and PM are in frequent contact and the PM will meet with other senior officials, including Secretary Clinton, during his visit.”
Regardless, the worsening relationship between the two leaders is political gold for Republicans who are looking for ways to undermine Obama’s advantage on national security while cutting down his support among Jewish voters. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has a longstanding relationship with Netanyahu, has made Iran a centerpiece of his criticism aimed at the Obama administration’s foreign policy, calling for the implementation of “crippling sanctions” to dissuade Tehran from continuing its nuclear program.
Republicans also have questioned the Obama administration’s commitment to Israel, most recently after Democrats held three contested votes during their convention in Charlotte, N.C., before agreeing to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the party platform. Democrats say they’re trying to preserve a role for the United States as an arbiter between Israel and the Palestinians.
This isn’t the first time a visit by Netanyahu has made political hay for the GOP.
In March 2010, he spent three and a half hours at the White House unsuccessfully trying to break an impasse with the Obama administration over Israeli settlements and other points of disagreement.
And at last year’s G-20 summit in France, Obama was overheard telling French President Nicolas Sarkozy, “I have to work with him every day,” after Sarkozy called Netanyahu a “liar.”
Updated at 8:49 p.m.