Netanyahu cancels trip to Obama's nuclear summit

By Douglas Hamilton and Dan Williams

JERUSALEM, April 9 (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled a planned trip to Washington next week for President Barack Obama’s 47-country nuclear security conference.

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.

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