Israel's Netanyahu cancels trip to nuclear security summit in Washington

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By Glenn Kessler
Friday, April 9, 2010

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu abruptly scrubbed plans to attend President Obama's nuclear security summit next week, with Israeli news media citing a concern that his presence would spark Arab criticism of Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal.

Leaders and top officials from 47 countries have announced that they will attend the summit, which will focus on securing nuclear materials around the globe so they cannot fall into the hands of terrorists. Obama has made the issue one of his signature priorities, and the gathering will mark one of the largest gatherings of heads of state and government in Washington in the city's history.

Netanyahu's decision not to attend the summit comes at a low point in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Obama administration is still awaiting a response from Netanyahu to U.S. demands that he take confidence-building steps to engender indirect talks with the Palestinians, such as halting Jewish construction in areas of Jerusalem that Palestinians hope to claim as their capital.

Yet Netanyahu was not expected to meet with Obama during the summit -- which takes place Monday and Tuesday -- and there was no indication that the cancellation of his trip was related to the ongoing U.S.-Israeli tensions. The Israeli government said Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who deals with atomic issues, will take Netanyahu's place.

Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the administration welcomed Meridor's participation. "Israel is a close ally, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with it on issues related to nuclear security," he said.

Israel, India and Pakistan are the only nuclear powers that have not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT. Israeli media reported that Netanyahu feared that Muslim states, led by Egypt and Turkey, would make an issue of Israel's refusal to sign the pact. Every Arab country has signed it.

"The nuclear security summit is supposed to be about dealing with the danger of nuclear terror," one Israeli official told the Haaretz newspaper. But "in the last few days we have received reports about the intention of several participant states to depart from the issue of combating terrorism and instead misuse the event to goad Israel over the NPT."

As of 2005, Israel was believed to have 250 to 500 nuclear weapons, according to GlobalSecurity.org, but it has never confirmed or denied their existence.


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