The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has cancelled his visit to Germany in an abrupt decision – with the U.S. administration first citing ‘scheduling’ issues and then later ‘international security issues’ as the reason.
Merkel’s office confirmed the cancellation ‘by the American side’ but referred other questions to the U.S. Embassy, which had no further comment.
The mysterious cancellation comes after the United States refused to sign an agreement on challenges in the Arctic due to discrepancies over climate change wording, diplomats said on Tuesday.
However Pompeo’s meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in London on Wednesday will still go ahead – where Pompeo is scheduled to deliver a speech on the US and UK special relationship.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting
Members of Arctic States Finland, Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States and members of permanent participants, the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council and Heads of Delegations gather for photo in Lappia Hall, Rovaniemi, Finland
The cancellation also follows two days after the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier group to the Middle East ahead of schedule and warning that Iran and its proxy forces are showing ‘troubling and escalatory’ indications of a possible attack on American forces in the region.
Exactly what prompted the action was unclear, but it marked a further step in sharply rising tensions between the Trump administration and the Islamic Republic.
National security adviser John Bolton said Sunday night the U.S. was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East, intending to send a message that ‘unrelenting force’ will meet any attack on American forces or allies.
With its pressure campaign, the U.S. administration is trying to get Iran to halt activities such as supporting militant activities that destabilize the Middle East and threaten U.S. allies, including Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
‘Our objective is to get the Islamic Republic of Iran to behave like a normal nation,’ Pompeo told reporters during a visit to Finland. ‘When they do that, we will welcome them back.’
Speaking to reporters while flying to Europe, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the actions undertaken by the U.S. had been in the works for a little while.
‘It is absolutely the case that we have seen escalatory actions from the Iranians and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests,’ Pompeo said. ‘If these actions take place, if they do by some third-party proxy, a militia group, Hezbollah, we will hold the Iranian leadership directly accountable for that.’
Asked about ‘escalatory actions,’ Pompeo replied, ‘I don’t want to talk about what underlays it, but make no mistake, we have good reason to want to communicate clearly about how the Iranians should understand how we will respond to actions they may take.’
Asked if the Iranian action were related to the deadly events in Gaza and Israel – militants fired rockets into Israel on Sunday and Israel responded with airstrikes – Pompeo said, ‘It is separate from that.’
The Trump administration has been intensifying a pressure campaign against Iran.
Trump administration sinks international agreement on the Arctic
The U.S.’s refusal to sign an agreement on challenges in the Arctic could jeopardize cooperation in the polar region at the sharp edge of global warming.
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 .
The meeting of eight nations bordering the Arctic in Rovaniemi in Finland on Tuesday was supposed to frame a two-year agenda to balance the challenge of global warming with sustainable development of mineral wealth.
Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini welcomes participants attending the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, Tuesday, May 7, 2019
But sources with knowledge of the discussions said the United States balked at signing a final declaration as it disagreed with wording that climate change was a serious threat to the Arctic.
It was the first time a declaration had been cancelled since the Arctic Council was formed in 1996.
Instead, in a brief statement, ministers from the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland repeated their commitment to sustainable development and the protection of the Arctic environment.
Except for the United States, other nations had wanted to go further, participants said.
‘A majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience,’ talks chair and Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said in a statement.
‘I don’t want to name and blame anyone,’ he told reporters.
A senior U.S. State Department official denied Washington had again dragged its heels over global environmental action.
‘There were several different versions of the declaration going around. The U.S. was ready to sign,’ said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
The idea for ‘a simpler, positive, unified, collective message’ had come from Russia and Canada, he added.
Scientists believe the Arctic contains around 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered reserves of oil and 30 percent of its reserves of natural gas as well as huge deposits of minerals such as zinc, iron and rare earth metals.
Harvesting them remains expensive, but melting ice is making that more feasible, as well as affecting the world’s weather, and the Arctic’s wildlife and indigenous residents.
Addressing the Council, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said President Donald Trump’s administration ‘shares your deep commitment to environmental stewardship’ in the Arctic. But he said collective goals were not always the answer.
Agreements between countries in the Arctic Council are non-binding, and Pompeo accused Russia and China of not playing by the rules as they look to assert rights over resources and trade routes.
‘Collective goals … are rendered meaningless, even counter-productive as soon as one nation fails to comply,’ Pompeo told the Council.
President Trump has frequently expressed skepticism about whether global warming is a result of human activity and has stood by his 2017 decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord signed by almost 200 governments in 2015. That has put him at odds with campaigners and many other countries.
‘A climate crisis in the Arctic is not a future scenario, it is happening as we speak,’ Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in her address to the Council.
The Paris accord agreed to limit a rise in average global temperatures to ‘well below’ 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times by 2100. Worldwide, temperatures are up about 1C (1.8F).