Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Hours before he was expected to arrive, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled a visit to Germany to travel elsewhere because of “pressing issues,” his spokesperson said.
It’s unclear where the top U.S. diplomat is headed instead, but the abrupt change comes two days after the Trump administration ordered an aircraft carrier strike group to move to the Middle East region ahead of schedule. Pompeo and other senior U.S. officials said that was because of an urgent threat from Iran.
The press pool permitted to travel with Pompeo was not told where they are going before departing Finland, where Pompeo attended the Arctic Council summit and met with Canadian and Russian counterparts, among others. Journalists were also told they wouldn’t be permitted to report until after they departed – a restriction usually in place when a senior U.S. official visits a war zone like Iraq or Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately, we must reschedule the Berlin meetings due to pressing issues. We look forward to rescheduling this important set of meetings. The Secretary looks forward to being in Berlin soon,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
Pompeo spoke by phone with German Secretary Heiko Maas instead, with a German Foreign Office spokesperson saying, “Both sides agreed they would find a new date soon. Foreign Minister Maas expressed his understanding for the rescheduling.” Pompeo was scheduled to meet with Maas and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – making the cancellation that much more significant.
Late Sunday night, the White House announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln and a bomber task force were being deployed in response to unspecified “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” of a threat from Iran. U.S. officials told ABC News there were “clear indications” Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were preparing for a possible attack against U.S. forces on land, including in Iraq and Syria, and at sea.
“There’s escalation that may be taking place, and so we’re taking all the appropriate actions, both from a security perspective, as well as our ability to make sure that the president has a wide range of options in the event that something should actually take place,” Pompeo said Monday.
He declined to say more, deferring questions about the deployment to the Defense Department, but he specifically said he has a responsibility to keep U.S. diplomats in Iraq and Jordan safe: “I have a responsibility to keep the officers that work for me safe each and every day all around the world. That includes in Erbil and Baghdad, our facilities in Amman — all around the Middle East.”
Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. The Trump administration is expected to mark the occasion by announcing new economic penalties on the Iranian government, to further sap it of revenue, while there are indications that Iran could also mark the date with some action.
The last-minute cancellation is unusual in the world of diplomacy, where weeks of meetings and preparations go into visits, even when they’re just hours long.
The cancellation may also be seen as a snub of Germany, which has had a somewhat difficult relationship with the Trump administration. Trump and Merkel have not had a warm personal relationship, according to U.S. and German diplomatic officials, and the alliance has been strained by disagreements over the Iran nuclear deal, trade, a pipeline between Russia and Germany, defense spending, and more.
The German embassy in Washington deferred to the Foreign Office’s statement, noting Foreign Minister Maas “expressed his understanding.” The State Department did not elaborate beyond Ortagus’s statement.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.