Pompeo visits Baghdad amid escalating tensions with Iran

Pompeo visits Baghdad amid escalating tensions with Iran
© Kevin Dietsch for The Hill

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Dems ask former CIA chief John Brennan for Iran briefing: report MORE arrived in Iraq on Tuesday, according to local media outlets, a trip that comes amid escalating tensions with Iran.

"The reason we’re going is you’ve all seen the reports that there have been escalating — information that indicates that Iran is escalating their activity," Pompeo told reporters traveling with him, according to a readout released by the State Department.

"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 was a sovereign, independent nation, and that the United States would continue to help build out partners in the region — the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Emiratis, all of the Gulf states who want to see a free, independent, sovereign Iraq. And so that’s the primary mission set," he said.

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The already dire relationship between Washington and Tehran further deteriorated this week after the Trump administration announced Sunday a U.S. carrier strike group is headed to the region in response to unspecified “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”

Reports emerged the following day of a possible response from Iran on Wednesday that it will reduce its compliance with the Obama-era nuclear pact officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE withdrew the U.S. a year ago.

“As the one year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA fast approaches, Washington is ratcheting up the pressure on Iran through diplomatic, economic, and now even military means,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Hill on Monday.

Pompeo's surprise visit to Baghdad came after the State Department abruptly canceled a planned trip to Berlin on Tuesday. The secretary of State said that he spoke with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whom he said "understood completely" needing to reschedule.

"He also knows that our relationship with Iraq is important, and we’re partners in the challenges that Iran presents to Germany and to Europe as well," Pompeo said.

Pompeo had been scheduled to meet with Maas and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on his trip abroad.

The administration doubled down on its criticism of Tehran in recent weeks, labeling Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “foreign terrorist organization” and floating a new round of sanctions. 

Iran responded by declaring U.S. forces in the Middle East a terrorist organization.

U.S. intelligence officials have now reportedly assessed a threat against U.S. forces in the region from Iranian and proxy forces, a discovery that sparked the carrier’s deployment.

“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” White House national security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Trump: War would 'be the official end of Iran' MORE said in a statement.

Updated: 6:30 p.m.