May 7 (UPI) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Tuesday after canceling a Berlin meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the last minute.
Reporters traveling with Pompeo said he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and other top officials for 4 hours, The New York Times reported.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus offered no specific details about why the office canceled the Berlin meeting, which was expected to address Russia, China and Syria.
“Unfortunately, we must reschedule the Berlin meetings due to pressing issues,” Ortagus said in a statement tweeted by the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. “We look forward to rescheduling this important set of meetings. The secretary looks forward to being in Berlin soon.”
The State Department did not specify the purpose of Pompeo’s trip to Iraq, but it comes one day after the U.S. Department of Defense deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East in response to threats to U.S. troops by Iran or its allies.
Tensions with Iran have skyrocketed in the past week since the Trump administration ended waivers that allowed some countries to continue buying Iranian crude oil despite U.S. sanctions. That means China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey can no longer buy crude oil from Iran, putting increased pressure on Tehran.
The United States also officially designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror group, which prompted Iran to name U.S. forces as terrorists as well.
The United States has forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which neighbor Iran to the west and east, respectively.
In April, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on Mideast nations, including Iraq, to collectively oppose the United States for supporting Israel. He said U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen has sowed “misery, agony and carnage.”
It’s been a year since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal.
Pompeo was in Finland on Tuesday to meet with with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and attend a meeting of the Arctic Council. He was then expected to travel to Berlin for the Merkel meeting.
Merkel’s office said the meeting would no longer happen “because of the visit’s cancellation by the U.S. side.”
Journalists traveling with the State Department said they were not told where they would go next as part of Pompeo’s five-day trip, which includes London and Nuuk, Greenland, later in the week. They were told they would be informed when they arrived at the new destination and might not be able to file reports until they left what turned out to be Baghdad.
The State Department said there were no plans to cancel Wednesday’s meeting between Pompeo and British Prime Minister Theresa May and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Nicholas Sakelaris contributed to this report.