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Fox News cancels next Republican debate after candidates bolt

Last Updated Mar 17, 2016 10:24 AM EDT

Fox News announced Wednesday that next week's Republican debate in Salt Lake City is canceled, following the decision by all three GOP candidates to drop out of the presidential forum.

"This morning, Donald Trump announced he would not be participating in the debate. Shortly afterward, John Kasich's campaign announced that without Trump at the debate, Kasich would not participate. Ted Cruz has expressed a willingness to debate Trump or Kasich -- or both. But obviously, there needs to be more than one participant," Michael Clemente, executive vice president of Fox's news division, said in a statement. "So the Salt Lake City debate is cancelled."

Donald Trump was the first White House contender to announce Wednesday that he would not be attending the debate, citing prior commitments to speak "in front of an important group of people." After the front-runner's announcement, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and then Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also backed out.

Trump told "Fox and Friends" during a phone interview that he was "was very surprised when I heard that Fox called for a debate."

"I think we have had enough debates," he said. "We have had 11 or 12 debates. I did really well on the last one. I think I have done well in all the debates...But I think we've had enough. How many times can the same people ask you the same question?"

"Nobody told me about it," he added. "And I won't be there, no."

Instead, Trump said, "I'm making a very major speech in front of a very important group of people."

When pressed on what group he would be talking with, the billionaire confirmed that it was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is holding its annual policy conference from Mar. 20-22 in Washington, D.C.

AIPAC announced last week that Trump would give an address at the summit, along with other prominent politicians like Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.

Last month, Trump had told CNN in an interview that he believed there might be "two more debates," and that "I guess I'm pretty much okay with it."

On Wednesday, Kasich joined Trump in declining to attend the debate, though the Ohio governor's campaign said they would participate if the front-runner makes a different decision.

"Donald Trump's decision to scuttle the Salt Lake City debate is disappointing, but not surprising. His values are out of step with the people of Utah," John Weaver, Kasich's chief campaign strategist, said in a statement. "We had hoped to contrast Governor Kasich's positive inclusive approach to problem solving with Trump's campaign of division. If he changes his mind, we will be there."

A source close to the Cruz campaign told CBS News' Major Garrett that Cruz also decided to back out of the forum, saying the Texas senator was not interested in debating himself.

This isn't the first time Trump has decided to forego a GOP debate.

In January, the Republican front-runner chose to host a fundraiser for veterans in Iowa in lieu of attending a Fox News debate. Then, Trump had cited his treatment by the network and his feud with anchor Megyn Kelly as reasons for skipping the presidential forum.

The Fox News debate, approved by the Republican National Committee, was scheduled for Mar. 21 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

CBS News' Chief White House correspondent Major Garrett contributed to this report.