Pompeo cancels trip to Greenland for meetings on Iran, North Korea

PHOTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes part in the 11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland, May 7, 2019. PlayMandel Ngan/AP
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Two days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cut a stop from his trip to Germany, his office announced that he was canceling another visit -- this time to Greenland, where Pompeo was to see melting glaciers at the forefront of climate change.

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Pompeo had to "postpone" his visit because of "a need for the Secretary to be in Washington, D.C. today," according to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. A senior State Department official said Pompeo decided to return early to Washington for Iran-related meetings, and after Kim Jong Un's regime test fired missiles Thursday, North Korea will also be discussed, the official said.

The Trump administration has sought to send a message of strength to Iran after it said intelligence indicated an "imminent" and "escalatory" threat from Iran and its proxies to U.S. personnel in Iraq. Pompeo skipped his meetings in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to press Iraqi leadership on the importance of guaranteeing Americans' safety and reining in Iranian-backed Shiite militias in the country.

The long-planned Greenland visit was supposed to be part of a renewed push by Pompeo to assert American leadership in the Arctic and warn of Chinese influence. But that effort was overshadowed by Pompeo's comments on climate change while in Finland Monday -- seeming to welcome the melting Arctic ice as a good economic opportunity.

"Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade," he said during a speech on the sidelines of the Arctic Council summit. "Arctic sea lanes could come before -- could [become] the 21st Century Suez and Panama Canals."

In Greenland, Pompeo would have witnessed firsthand how the rapid melt of glaciers has had devastating consequences and how the U.S. government, despite President Donald Trump's dismissal of climate change, has deployed U.S. military personnel to assist in studying it.

Pompeo will reschedule the visit when possible, and the U.S. will begin work to reestablish a permanent diplomatic presence in Greenland, Ortagus added.

"We will work together with Congress and Denmark to make this happen as soon as possible," she said. Greenland is an autonomous territory of Denmark.

Pompeo was scheduled to meet a unit from the New York Air National Guard that deployed to Greenland last month to support scientists doing climate research. The mission uses ski-equipped aircraft to transport fuel, cargo, and passengers to various research camps throughout Greenland, according to the U.S. Air Force, as National Science Foundation researchers study Greenland's ice cap and its thaw.

Pompeo had no scheduled meeting with the Nation Science Foundation scientists themselves.

In annual assessments, the Pentagon has declared climate change is a national security threat. But Pompeo was more dismissive of the issue in his speech in Finland, not mentioning the words "climate change" and dismissing international efforts to regulate global emissions.

"Collective goals, even when well-intentioned, are not always the answer. They're rendered meaningless, even counterproductive, as soon as one nation fails to comply," he said during the Arctic Council summit Tuesday.

Pompeo has said he believes humans are contributing to a warming planet, but that international agreements are a poor way to deal with that issue and instead are too costly to the U.S.

To that end, the U.S. also objected to a joint declaration by the Council that included references to the Paris climate accord. The historic agreement, signed in 2016, set targets for each country to reduce its carbon emissions, but President Trump has initiated U.S. withdrawal from the pact.

Instead of a joint declaration, the Council signed a shorter joint statement that made no mention of climate change, instead saying participants reaffirmed "our commitment to... sustainable development and to the protection of the Arctic environment."

Foreign Minister Timo Soini of Finland, the current chair of the Arctic Council, expressed disappointment that, "The declaration in a traditional way was not possible this time," but he declined to "name and blame anybody... It is clear that the climate issues are different from the different viewpoints and from the different capitals."

A senior State Department official briefing reporters called reports about the U.S. position "fake news."

"Just because you don't have a certain phrase in it, you can't infer that the United States has taken some sort of position that's anti environment," the official said.

They went further and seemed to dismiss climate change itself: "It's a truism that climate changes," the official told reporters.

Pompeo has instead touted the United States's reduction in carbon emissions, saying Monday between 2006 and 2017, U.S. emissions fell 14% "through scientific work, through technology, through building out safe and secure energy infrastructure, and through our economic growth, and doing it in a way that doesn't stifle development with burdensome regulations that only create more risk to the environment."

But those emissions also came because of the energy regulations that the Obama administration had put in place, including setting higher fuel efficiency standards for cars, settings limits on oil and gas drilling, and more, according to environmental groups.