US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has canceled a planned trip to China this week to deal with Israel's military offensive in Gaza, the State Department said Sunday.
"Due to events in the Middle East, Secretary Rice will not be able to travel to Beijing, China, as she had expected," State Department spokesman Fred Lash said in a statement.
He said Rice's deputy John Negroponte will travel instead to Beijing on Wednesday for what was scheduled to be her final trip as secretary of state, to mark 30 years of Sino-US diplomatic relations.
With Israel launching a ground attack on Hamas-held Gaza, the State Department says it is working toward a ceasefire but does not want a "status quo ante" in which the Palestinian group can fire rockets at Israel.
"It is obvious that that ceasefire should take place as soon as possible, but we need a ceasefire that is durable, sustainable, and not time limited," department spokesman Sean McCormack said Saturday.
President George W. Bush's administration has staunchly defended its Israeli allies' right to defend themselves from militant attacks, and placed the blame for the crisis on the Islamists of Hamas.
President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office on January 20, has not commented on the crisis with aides insisting there is only "one president at a time."
With the Bush administration making way for Obama's in just over a fortnight, Rice had indicated that little of substance appeared likely to emerge from her visit to China scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
The United States switched its diplomatic recognition to communist-ruled China on January 1, 1979, ending decades of US support for Taiwan's Nationalist government.
Bush informed Chinese President Hu Jintao of the decision to call off Rice's trip in a telephone call Sunday, China's official Xinhua news agency said.
China understood the decision and would welcome a visit by Negroponte, it quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.