In the latest showing of a tense relationship, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled his meeting with President Barack Obama, along with the rest of his planned visit to the United States.
The prime minister and the president have had a complicated relationship throughout President Obama's tenure in office. Tensions rose further when President Obama struck a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions, which Netanyahu argued did not go far enough.
However, the administration has denied claims by many Israeli media outlets that the White House could not find time to accommodate Netanyahu.
"We were surprised to first learn via media reports that the Prime Minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit," National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said. "Reports that we were not able to accommodate the Prime Minister's schedule are false."
Both parties have now confirmed this was not the reason for the cancellation.
The latest friction between Netanyahu and Obama – who have had a tense relationship, not least over the issue of Iran – came ahead of a visit by vice-president Joe Biden to Israel, when the issue of US military aid to the country is expected to be on the agenda.
Netanyahu's visit had been planned to coincide with the American-Israel Political Affairs Committee's annual conference. The White House said Israel had proposed for the two leaders to meet on either March 17 or 18 and the U.S. had offered to meet on March 18.
New York Times:
When it comes to the strained relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, even a single missed meeting is cause for grievance and accusations.
By now it would take an archaeologist to unearth the layers of contempt that the Obama White House and Netanyahu's Office of the Prime Minister feel toward each other.
Israeli officials have since clarified the prime minister's reason for calling off the meeting. Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer made contact with Obama Administration officials on Friday, saying there was a good chance Netanyahu would not be coming to Washington. Officials have added Netanyahu wants to stay out of the United States to avoid any perceived interference with the upcoming presidential election.
A meeting with the president was not the only item on Netanyahu's agenda for his planned visit. The prime minister was also expected to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington DC, held by a pro Israeli group known as Aipac. Netanyahu now plans to address the conference via satellite.
Israel is widely regarded as America's closest ally in the Middle East. During his time in office, President Obama has been harshly criticized by Republican opposition for his perceived lax relationship with the Israeli prime minister.
News of Netanyahu's cancellation occurred as Vice President Joe Biden makes plans to travel to Israel and visit Palestinian territories. Biden is expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in addition to Prime Minister Netanyahu.