Top US diplomat makes secret Iraq trip amid Iran tensions

Mike Pompeo boards a plane at Rovaniemi Airport in Rovaniemi Finland after taking part in the 11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council

Mandel Ngan AP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Baghdad late Tuesday on an unannounced visit, an Iraqi government source said, canceling a trip to Germany amid escalating US-Iran tensions.

Mr Pompeo's visit comes as Iran warned it will resume uranium enrichment unless the remaining signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal - France, Britain, Germany, China and Russian Federation - can show it is worth pursuing.

Responding to a question about whether Iraq could protect USA interests from attacks by Iran and its proxy forces, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said Tuesday that Iraq takes its responsibilities seriously.

Speaking after the meetings, Pompeo told reporters that he made the surprise visit to Iraq because Iran "is escalating their activity" in the region following the US move to ban Iranian oil exports.

Pompeo, whose trip to Iraq is his second this year, said he spoke at length about Iran's influence with Shiite militias.

National Security Adviser John Bolton said the deployment was in response to a "number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings", but did not elaborate.

Abdul Mahdi said the United States was an important strategic partner for Iraq, but stressed that Baghdad was continuing to seek a balanced relationship with all of its "friends and neighbours, including neighbouring Iran".

Netanyahu: Israel will not allow Iran nuclear weapons
Russian Federation has voiced support for Iran - but is not an oil customer and carries little weight in the global economy. The initial two steps announced by President Hassan Rouhani are at the very low end of the scale of available measures.

"We've made clear that if the risk exceeds the threshold for the United States, we simply won't be able to share that information any longer", he said last month.

On Sunday, the United States announced that it was deploying an aircraft carrier group and bombers to the Middle East, accusing Iran of posing a threat to Washington and its allies in the region.

In a press conference a few hours before Pompeo's arrival, Abdel Mahdi said Iraq would not accept any attack on foreign troops on its land.

The "campaign to continue to prevent ISIS terror inside of Iraq itself is something that's very central ... to the Iraqi government", Pompeo said. More than 5,000 USA troops are stationed on Iraqi soil. Iranian media have said that Rouhani will announce retaliatory measures on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of Trump's pullout from a 2015 nuclear accord under which Tehran drastically scaled back its sensitive work.

Trump withdrew from the Obama administration's landmark nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018 and, in the months that followed, re-imposed punishing sanctions, including those targeting Iran's oil, shipping and banking sectors.

"Iraq is going to need two or three years to achieve self-sufficiency in the field, which will be possible only if big projects are implemented", Al-Khateeb said. Pompeo had been travelling from Finland, where he had attended a meeting of the Arctic Council, to Germany, where he was due to meet both Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas later Tuesday.

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