US President Joe Biden proposed a first face-to-face meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a call last week.
However, The Financial Times reported on Tuesday Biden was unable to secure it.
Biden later told reporters it was not true that he was turned down by his Chinese counterpart.
A source briefed on last week’s 90-minute call confirmed with Reuters, however, that the report was accurate, and that “Xi apparently intimated that the tone and atmosphere of the relationship needed to be improved first.”
China’s embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
The FT reported that Xi did not engage with Biden’s idea of a summit, which the White House believed was partly due to the global health crisis.
The G20 summit in Italy next month had been floated as a possible venue for their meeting, but Xi has not left China since the first outbreak early last year.
The call between the two leaders was their first in seven months.
They discussed the need to stray from possible conflict amid the worst bilateral relations in decades.
The White House said after the call that it intended to keep lines of communication open, but announced no plans to follow-up.
China state media reported that Beijing agreed to ramp up lower-level talks.