| GEO World|
| Israeli PM cancels US visit|
| Updated at: 0721 PST, Friday, April 09, 2010|
WASHINGTON: Israel's Prime Minister has called off his trip to Washington next week to attend a conference on the spread of nuclear weapons, officials in his office said, fearing Israel would be singled out over its own nuclear programme.
Benjamin Netanyahu had said he would attend the conference to underline the dangers of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons, but suddenly called off the trip less than two days after he announced he would take part.
Officials in his office said that Netanyahu reversed himself because some nations planned to use the conference to target Israel over its barely concealed nuclear weapons programme. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer confirmed that Israel had informed the US that Netanyahu would be staying home, sending his deputy, Dan Meridor, instead.
The Israeli officials did not name the states thought to be planning to single out Israel, which has not signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Muslim nations - including Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel - have often complained about Israel's nuclear programme.
Israel has not admitted to possessing nuclear weapons, preferring a policy it calls "ambiguity". Based on evidence, international experts have estimated that Israel has dozens, possibly hundreds, of nuclear bombs.
The most detailed evidence emerged in 1986, when a former technician at Israel's main nuclear facility leaked pictures and information to the Sunday Times. The technician, Mordechai Vanunu, was captured and served an 18-year prison sentence in Israel.
Announcing his intention to fly to Washington, Netanyahu told a Jerusalem news conference on Wednesday that he did not expect pressure over Israel's nuclear programme there.
"I'm not concerned that anyone would think that Israel is a terrorist regime," Netanyahu said. "Everybody knows a terrorist and rogue regime when they see one, and believe me, they see quite a few around Israel."
For years, Netanyahu has been leading a campaign to publicise Iran's nuclear programme, charging that it is meant to produce nuclear weapons. Israel has called for stiff sanctions against Iran, but at the same time has not taken the option of a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities off the table.