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White House 'surprised' as Netanyahu cancels US visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned down an offer to meet Barack Obama in Washington, the White House said. The administration learned of Netanyahu's move "via media reports," according to a spokesman.

Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to visit the US on the 18th of March, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said on Monday.

"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," Price said.

The date for the visit was put forth by Israel, according to Price, and the White House agreed to it two weeks ago. The trip was meant to coincide with the summit of a major pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC.

"Reports that we were not able to accommodate the prime minister's schedule are false," he added.

There was no immediate comment from the office of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Family feud

The perceived snub indicates a

large rift

between the two leaders, which has been burdening US-Israeli relations ever since last year's nuclear deal with Iran.

USA Israel Benjamin Netanjahu & Barack Obama Weißes Haus Washington

Obama meets Netanyahu in the Oval Office in November

While Tel Aviv remains Washington's closest ally in the Middle East, Netanyahu has repeatedly criticized the Iran accord, describing it as a "bad deal" bound to bolster a state hostile to Israel.

Netanyahu defied diplomatic conventions by

addressing the US Congress directly

last March, on an invitation from the Republican party, urging them not to approve the White House-backed deal. He was denied a meeting with Obama during his trip, which preceded Israeli elections.

However, the two leaders

met in November

in a push to mend ties.

Awaiting Biden

The US and Israel are also struggling to negotiate a new multibillion-dollar defense deal, with the current accord set to expire in 2018. Under the current "Memorandum of Understanding," Israel receives about $3.1 billion (2.9 billion euros) every year.

In February, Netanyahu and his aides suggested that Israel could wait for the new US president to take office in 2017, and potentially secure better terms.

US Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Israel and meet Netanyahu later this week.

dj/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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