Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Tuesday he turned down a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington later this month because he wants to avoid interfering with the ongoing presidential primary elections.
The White House said Monday that Israel had proposed the meeting for either March 17 or 18, with the Obama administration agreeing to meet on one of those days.
"We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting," National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said. "We were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit."
The development comes as Vice President Joe Biden is due to arrive late Tuesday in Israel during his multi-nation visit to the Middle East. Biden will meet with former Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday and has a meeting with Netanyahu scheduled for Wednesday.
Biden began his trip Monday in the United Arab Emirates, where he visited U.S. airmen stationed at the Al-Dhafra Air Base and vowed the United states would "squeeze the heart" out of Islamic State and destroy it.
He dismissed Islamic State insurgents as "criminals and cowards."
In an interview with the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, Biden pressed the U.S. case for a negotiated peace settlement to end the five-year civil war in Syria, ruling out a military solution. Peace talks are set to resume again later this week in Geneva as a truce has sharply curtailed fighting in recent days.
"A political solution between the parties is the only way to end the violence and give the Syrian people the chance they deserve to rebuild their country," Biden said. "To create a credible, inclusive, and non-sectarian system, a new constitution and free and fair elections."
Biden also discussed the fight against Islamic State with Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well as efforts to resolve conflicts in Yemen and Libya. He thanked the UAE for its humanitarian contributions in both Syria and Iraq.
UAE forces have been taking in part in airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria as part of a U.S.-led coalition.
Biden's trip is scheduled to include a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday and with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Thursday.