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Monday April 12, 2010 7:40 AM (EST+7)
Clinton downplays Israeli PM's absence at nuclear summit

Read more: nuclear power, power, infrastructure, nuclear weapons, atomic weapons

WASHINGTON, April 11 (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied the United States had been blindsided by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to pull out of President Obama's nuclear security summit.

Netanyahu's decision last week to cancel a planned trip to Washington comes at a time when bilateral ties are strained between Israel and the United States over matters such as Israeli construction in Jerusalem and the disputed West Bank.

But in an interview with NBC's Meet the Press aired on Sunday, Clinton brushed aside suggestions that the Israeli leader's no-show for the nuclear parley opening on Monday had surprised Washington or made a tense relationship worse.

No, not at all, she told NBC.

That's a decision for a head of government or head of state. Gordon Brown is not coming from Great Britain. Kevin Rudd is not coming from Australia. King Abdullah is not coming from Saudi Arabia, Clinton said. The interview was taped on Friday.

It's like when President Obama had to cancel his trip to Indonesia and Australia, she added, referring to a recent decision by the U.S. president to stay home to help push healthcare reform proposals through Congress.

Dozens of world leaders are gathering in Washington for the meeting Obama is hosting on securing nuclear materials.

Netanyahu decided not to go after learning that Egypt and Turkey intended to raise the issue of Israel's assumed atomic arsenal at the summit and plan to say it must sign the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a senior Israeli government official said on Friday.

By staying outside the NPT, Israel has not had to forswear nuclear arms nor admit international inspectors to its Dimona reactor, which experts believe has produced plutonium for between 80 and 200 warheads.

Arab diplomats countered that they suspected Netanyahu had canceled mainly to avoid further confrontation with Obama over Jewish settlements.

Clinton told NBC that the Israelis share our deep concern about nuclear terrorism and will be represented at a very high level. Netanyahu is sending Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor along with two senior advisers, a delegation U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones on Friday called robust.

We have a deep and very close relationship between the United States and Israel that goes back many years. That doesn't mean we're going to agree on everything, Clinton said. We don't agree with any of our friends on everything. (Editing by jackie Frank)






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