White House Plays Down Dispute with Israel Over Iran

White House rejects reports that Obama refused to meet Netanyahu because of Iran, says the two "won't be in New York" at the same time.

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Elad Benari,

Netanyahu and Obama in NYC
Netanyahu and Obama in NYC
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The White House is playing down reports in the Israeli media that President Barack Obama refused to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because of a dispute on Iran.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor dismissed Tuesday’s reports that Obama did not agree to meet with Netanyahu during the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“They’re simply not in the city at the same time,” Vietor told Bloomberg in an e-mail.

Obama and Netanyahu “are in frequent contact” and Netanyahu will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials during the visit, Vietor said.

An Israeli official said that the Israeli government was told Obama’s schedule didn’t allow time for a meeting with Netanyahu.

Tensions between the sides have been high lately over perceptions of Iran’s nuclear program and how it should be dealt with.

On Monday the two sides sparred over remarks made by Clinton about setting “red lines” for Iran regarding its nuclear program.

Israel was not thrilled with Clinton’s remarks that the Obama administration has no “deadline” for Iran.

Clinton said in an interview that negotiations still are “by far the best approach” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, hours after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in an interview with Canadian television Sunday night that Iran “doesn’t see a clear red line from the international community.”

In response, a senior official in Jerusalem said, “Without a clear and firm red line, Iran will not stop its nuclear arms race. Such statements do not stop the Iranian centrifuges, but vice versa. Such statements not only do not deter Iran, they calm it down.”

The State Department later once again distanced Washington from the Israeli stance, with spokeswoman Victoria Nuland telling reporters, “The American people know that the president has said unequivocally he will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.