AMMAN, Jordan-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced appearance in Iraq on Wednesday as part of a weeklong tour throughout the Middle East aimed at reassuring anxious US allies and galvanizing them to take a larger role in the fight against ISIS and Iran, according to multiple USA officials.
Of the nine countries Pompeo is visiting, five are without ambassadors.
"That does not strike people in the Middle East as a humble and engaging approach".
Pompeo said the USA withdrawal from Syria will occur at a measured pace, with operations against Islamic State continuing as "we complete the mission of taking down the last elements of the caliphate before we depart".
The remark came in contrast to the president's statement from December 19., when he said the withdrawal would happen quickly and that the US had defeated ISIS.
The unannounced visits to Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Erbil came on the second day of a Middle East tour also taking in Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman. He added that an immediate withdrawal of USA forces from Syria would serve the interests of the Arab country.
Empty ambassador posts are filled in an interim capacity by career diplomats, who don't have the same clout or influence in their host country as a presidentially nominated and Senate-confirmed ambassador.
Pompeo's visit comes against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, as Washington seeks to counter Iran's sway in the Middle East.
Netanyahu's office said the prime minister told Putin in a phone call last week that "Israel is determined to continue its efforts to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria".
The top USA diplomat was in Egypt on the latest leg of a whistle-stop regional tour aimed at shoring up Washington's Middle East policy following President Donald Trump's shock decision to withdraw 2,000 United States troops from Syria.
The dozens of remaining vacancies stem from both political fights on Capitol Hill and Trump's apparent lack of urgency in putting forward nominees. Asked on Tuesday about what would be discussed during a possible meeting with Pompeo, Abdul Mahdi said deepening Iraq's relationship with the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State.
"The Trump administration is making Iran a priority not for engagement but for conflict [as well as]. sacrificing a lot of things in the region in order to make sure that they have the Middle East strategic alliance against Iran". Other nominees have faced sexual harassment lawsuits or been embroiled in federal investigations. And sometimes it's still another thing for the government to be able to mount confidently a criminal prosecution against that individual, " said Joshua Geltzer, a senior counterterrorism official under President Barack Obama. "It's a crying shame that this is the new normal".
His Middle East tour aims to urge allies to continue to confront the "significant threats" posed by Iran and ISIS despite Mr Trump's shock decision last month to pull all United States troops from Syria. The announcement showcased a chaotic policymaking process in Washington, where top officials were left scrambling to reverse-engineer a coherent Syria policy.
Regional leaders have been clear about their fear of Iran, which has launched scores of attacks against US allied forces in Syria and elsewhere in the years since the Obama administration freed up billions of cash windfalls for the Islamic Republic as part of the now-defunct nuclear deal.
The central question is how a vast and consistent regional policy can even be attempted when multiple, at times quite disparate, voices are telling their interlocutors simply what they want to hear in the wake of their president spreading vastly different ideas.
Those attending the meeting with Bolton included General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking officer in the USA military and the principal military adviser to Trump and senior officials, and James Jeffrey, the USA special envoy to the anti-IS coalition.
Mr Bolton said on Sunday he would be seeking assurances from Ankara they would not attack the YPG as a condition to a U.S. withdrawal - which Mr Trump had failed to address during a December phone call with Mr Erdoğan - in a bid to salvage relations with the Kurds.
Pompeo insisted the two statements were entirely consistent.