Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled a planned trip to Washington
next week for President Barack Obama's 47-country nuclear
He made the decision after learning Egypt and Turkey
intended to raise the issue of Israel's assumed atomic arsenal
at the meeting, a senior government official said on Friday.
Israel is believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the
Middle East, but has never confirmed or denied it. It has not
signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Netanyahu saw Obama at the White House late last month to
discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But they
failed to see eye to eye and bilateral ties remain strained.
"The prime minister has decided to cancel his trip to
Washington to attend the nuclear conference next week, after
learning that some countries including Egypt and Turkey plan to
say Israel must sign the NPT," the official said.
Deputy Israeli Prime Minister Dan Meridor will stand in for
Netanyahu at the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) on April 12-13.
Netanyahu's attendance would have been the first by an
Israeli premier at an international nuclear forum. Aides said he
originally agreed to go after being reassured by the United
States that the NSS communique would focus on efforts to secure
fissile material with no allusions to Israel's undeclared arms.
The NSS had also offered Netanyahu an opportunity to drum up
support for sanctions against arch-foe Iran, which the West
suspects of seeking nuclear weapons despite denials from Tehran.
Neither Iran nor North Korea will attend the NSS.
"This conference is about nuclear terrorism," Netanyahu told
reporters on Wednesday. "And I'm not concerned that anyone will
think that Israel is a terrorist regime. Everybody knows a
terrorist and rogue regime when they see one, and believe me
they see quite a few -- around Israel."
Based on estimates of the plutonium production capacity of
its Dimona reactor, Israel may have stockpiled 80 to 200 nuclear
warheads since the late 1960s, independent experts say.
Israeli leaders do not comment on this capability under an
"ambiguity" policy billed as warding off enemies while avoiding
the kind of provocations that can trigger regional arms races.
The official reticence, and its tacit acceptance by the
United States, has long aggrieved Arab and Muslim powers.
Like India and Pakistan -- both also slated to attend the
NSS -- Israel is outside the NPT and thus avoids mandatory
international inspections of its nuclear facilities. Unlike
them, it has not openly tested or deployed atomic weapons.
Netanyahu had been expected to arrive late to the NSS due to
Monday's Holocaust memorial ceremonies in Israel, and to spend
an additional day in Washington after the summit's conclusion.
The White House had said Obama would not hold a separate
working meeting with Netanyahu, given their recent talks. On
Thursday, Netanyahu's office had said he might cut short his
Washington trip to allow for a stop in New York en route home.
News of Netanyahu's withdrawal from the NSS was noted by
U.S. Republicans, who saw a snub by the Obama administration.
"Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East and one of
our strongest allies anywhere around this globe," Liz Cheney,
daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, told the Southern
Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.
"And President Obama is playing a reckless game of
continuing down the path of diminishing America's ties to
(Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr in Jerusalem and Steve
Holland in New Orleans; editing by Andrew Roche)