Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cancellation of a proposed meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama put more strain on their troubled ties on Tuesday just before a visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden.
The White House said on Monday it was "surprised" to learn first from Israeli media that Netanyahu had decided against coming to a conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in Washington on March 20, and the suggestion in some reports that among his reasons was Obama's unavailability to see him.
Zeev Elkin, an Israeli cabinet minister close to Netanyahu, countered that Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer had given the White House advance warning the trip might not happen.
Netanyahu's office said on Tuesday he would not attend the AIPAC event and voiced appreciation for Obama's willingness to host him.
It said Netanyahu was reluctant to be drawn into the U.S. presidential campaign, where candidates have been vying to assert their bona fides as friends of Israel.
In 2012, Netanyahu hosted then-Republican contender Mitt Romney in Israel in what many Democrats saw as a bid to undercut Obama's second-term run. Israel denied meddling.