White House looks to downplay U.S., Israel spat

President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Monday, March, 5, 2012, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - The White House is trying to downplay a diplomatic squabble between the U.S. and Israel. That squabble led to a one-hour phone call between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Tuesday night after Israeli officials complained that he was being snubbed by the White House.

On Sunday, and then again on Tuesday, Netanyahu railed against the U.S. for not taking a tougher stance on Iran's nuclear program.

"If Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it is doing," he said. "It's continuing without any interference."

Then came reports in the Israeli press that the White House had turned down a meeting request when Mr. Obama and the prime minister attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month. "They're simply not in the city at the same time," the White House explained.

This would be the first time that Netanyahu has come to the United States as prime minister and not met with the president.

The two have had their tense moments before. In an Oval Office meeting last year, Netanyahu appeared to lecture the president on Israeli security. He said at the time, "So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda."

In recent weeks, the U.S. has sent multiple representatives to meet with Netanyahu to assuage Israeli concerns that it is taking the Iranian nuclear threat seriously.

Former Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk says the administration's displeasure with Netanyahu's recent rhetoric is understandable. He said, "In these circumstances, it would be the better part of wisdom for the prime minister to tone it down and for the president to go ahead with the meeting."

There is a political component to all this as well so close to the presidential election. Several Republican senators on Tuesday criticized the White House for failing to set up a meeting with Netanyahu. The president hasn't been to Israel since taking office four years ago. That's something that the Israelis often point out while his opponent, Mitt Romney, did visit Jerusalem earlier this summer and had a very friendly meeting with the prime minister.

For Nancy Cordes' full report, watch the video in the player above.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.