Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, abruptly cancelled talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday to make an urgent visit to Iraq amid rising tensions with Iran. Iraqi government sources confirmed Mr Pompeo landed in the capital Baghdad late on Tuesday night where he was met with Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi. Mr Pompeo said his surprise visit was in response to “escalating” perceived threats from neighbouring Iran. Reporters travelling with the Secretary of State were kept in the dark over their destination and were warned they may not be able to report on it until after their departure. “I wanted to go to Baghdad to speak with the leadership there, to assure them that we stood ready to continue to ensure that Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation,” he later told reporters accompanying him. It was to be Mr Pompeo’s first trip to Germany since being appointed America’s top diplomat Credit: Reuters The abrupt schedule change came two days after the Pentagon announced it had deployed an aircraft carrier strike group and a fleet of bombers to the Middle East in response to a “troubling and escalatory indications” of Iranian activity in the region. US media later reported that the announcement was a reaction to “specific and credible” intelligence that suggested Iranian forces and proxies were planning to target American forces in Syria, Iraq and at sea. Mr Pompeo had been due to meet the Mrs Merkel and his German counterpart Heiko Maas in Berlin for talks on Ukraine, Russia, China, Syria, and the Western Balkans. But just hours before the trip a US Embassy spokesman said the the meeting had been cancelled. German government sources later said the US had cited “international security issues” in rescheduling the talks. The move did little to alleviate diplomatic strain between the two countries, with Donald Trump repeatedly criticising trade relations and Germany’s failure to raise Nato defence spending. Berlin and Washington are also at odds over a range of trade issues and the Nord Stream 2 project to build a new gas pipeline between Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea. There were unconfirmed media reports that Mr Pompeo was headed for Iraq. Reporters travelling with the Secretary of State were kept in the dark over their destination and were warned they may not be able to report on it until after their departure. The abrupt schedule change came two days after the Pentagon announced it had deployed an aircraft carrier strike group and a fleet of bombers to the Middle East in response to a “troubling and escalatory indications” of Iranian activity in the region. US media later reported that the announcement was a reaction to “specific and credible” intelligence that suggested Iranian forces and proxies were planning to target American forces in Syria, Iraq and at sea. Tuesday’s meeting was to be Mr Pompeo’s first visit to Germany, despite being in office for more than a year. Norbert Roettgen, chair of the German parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said that “even if the reasons for the rejection are unavoidable, it unfortunately fits in with the current climate in the relationship between the two governments”. Germany’s foreign ministry said in a short statement that “both sides agreed to quickly find a new date”. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper put it more bluntly – labeling the last-minute cancellation “an impertinence” and judged in a headline that “the German-American friendship lies in ruins”. Mr Pompeo will travel on to London on Wednesday where he will meet Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, to discuss Huawei, the threats posed by Iran and Russia as well as the return of British Isil fighters from the Middle East and the situation in Yemen. Mr Pompeo is expected to warn the Prime Minister against her decision to grant Chinese technology company Huawei access to Britain’s 5G networks, arguing that it poses a risk to British citizens and could breach privacy protections. Asked about his message to Britain and Germany on Huawei, a senior State Department official made clear that Mr Pompeo would outline the Trump administration’s deep concerns. “What we want to do with friends, allies, partners on this issue is share with them the things we know about the risks that the presence of Huawei and their networks present,” the official said. The Arctic Council’s annual summit ended with a declaration being cancelled for the first time since it was formed in 1996 Credit: AFP “We see that as imperative, the risk to their own people, to the loss of privacy protections, the risk that China will use the data in a way that’s not in the best interests of their country. And we have an obligation to share that information with them, and we’ll do that and continue that discussion.” He will also be delivering the Centre for Policy Studies’ annual Margaret Thatcher Lecture during which he will discuss the Special Relationship “that has indelibly contributed to the prosperity, security, and freedom of both countries and our people”, according to a State Department official. Before he was due to travel to Berlin, Mr Pompeo attended a meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland, which reportedly ended with the US refusing to sign a joint statement due to objections over its wording on climate change. Instead, in a brief statement, ministers from the US, Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland repeated their commitment to sustainable development and the protection of the Arctic environment. With Arctic temperatures rising at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, the melting ice is creating potential new shipping lanes and has opened much of the world’s last untapped reserves of oil and gas to commercial exploitation. In a speech on Tuesday, Mr Pompeo said the Arctic’s melting ice caps were “opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade” and suggested the Arctic Council look beyond “environmental research into events that may or may not occur in 100 years”.
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