Netanyahu says declined to meet Obama due to U.S. election campaign

JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he had declined an offer to meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House later this month because of the heated U.S. election campaign.

The White House first announced on Monday that Netanyahu had turned down the meeting – a move that was seen as the latest episode in a fraught relationship that has yet to recover from deep differences over last year’s U.S.-led international nuclear deal with Israel’s foe Iran.

A White House spokesman said on Monday Israel had requested a meeting and that two weeks ago Netanyahu was offered a March 18 encounter, but U.S. authorities later learned from media reports that Netanyahu had canceled the visit.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office said that while Netanyahu “appreciated Obama’s willingness to meet him”, he decided “not to go to Washington at this time, at the height of the primary election campaigns in the United States”.

Netanyahu was widely seen as favoring Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the 2012 U.S. election, and Israeli political sources said he was eager to avoid giving any impression of favoritism in the current race.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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