Secretary of State Mike Pompeo postponed an upcoming trip that included a stop in Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky in order to focus on the security situation in Iraq, the State Department announced Wednesday.
The decision to delay the trip came after a mob of angry protesters linked to an Iran-backed militia stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, smashing their way into the compound and setting fire to a reception area. They laid siege to the embassy for two days before beginning to disperse as security personnel fired tear gas into the crowd.
"Secretary Pompeo must postpone his visit to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Cyprus due to the need for the Secretary to be in Washington, D.C., to continue monitoring the ongoing situation in Iraq and ensure the safety and security of Americans in the Middle East," the State Department said in a statement.
Pompeo plans to reschedule his trip soon, the statement said.
The mob breached the embassy after U.S. airstrikes killed at least two dozen fighters linked to Kataeb Hezbollah, a militia the U.S. says is supported by Iran's elite Quds Force and is responsible for a rocket attack last week that killed an American contractor and wounded four U.S. service members.
Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, is part of a larger umbrella group of Shiite militias called the Popular Mobilization Forces, whose leaders painted the embassy attack as a victory.
Pompeo and President Donald Trump directly blamed Iran for the embassy breach.
In a phone call to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi on Wednesday, Pompeo condemned the "Iran-backed terrorist attack on U.S. Embassy Baghdad," the State Department said in a readout of the call. He also stressed Iraq's "obligation to prevent further attacks against our diplomatic mission."
He also called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Qatari Emir Hamad al-Thani to thank both leaders for their support "in the face of Iran’s malign regional influence," the State Department said.
Pompeo told CBS News there was never any plan to evacuate the embassy.
Reinforcements of about 100 Marines were sent to help secure the embassy, a U.S. military official who was not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Tuesday that Trump ordered the deployment of 750 troops from the 82nd Airborne’s Immediate Response Force to the region, and additional troops are prepared to deploy in the coming days.
On Tuesday, Pompeo told Fox News he hoped he could still make his trip to Ukraine on Friday but said he had to "make sure I’m in the right place to ensure that our people, the people of the State Department and Americans, are safe and secure in the Middle East. And if that means I have to change or delay my trip for a bit, that’s what I’ll do."
Pompeo's planned meeting with Zelensky was scheduled to take place at an awkward time as the Senate waits to begin an impeachment trial over allegations Trump delayed military aid to pressure the Ukrainian president into opening investigations that stood to benefit Trump politically.
The visit was intended to address the U.S. commitment to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression and to support Zelensky’s anti-corruption agenda, a senior State Department official told reporters Monday on the condition of anonymity.
The official would not say whether Pompeo would ask Zelensky about the investigations Trump wanted.
Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen, Tom Vanden Brook, Grace Hauck and John Bacon, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Pompeo postpones Ukraine trip after attack on US Embassy in Iraq