Washington: Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel is pulling out of a long-planned trip to Vietnam and Myanmar this month because of a demanding schedule at home, defense officials said Tuesday.
The last-minute decision to postpone the 10-day trip came after Hagel faced criticism over his performance from unnamed officials inside President Barack Obama`s administration in a series of news reports.
Some of the reports suggested Hagel and other officials might be replaced in a shake-up of Obama`s national security team after Tuesday`s midterm elections.
Officials have dismissed the speculation and the criticism.
"The decision to postpone the trip was driven by new and significant demands being placed on the secretary`s schedule, to include upcoming congressional hearings," a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in an email.
Hagel "has notified the relevant leaders in the region of his decision and he looks forward to re-scheduling it," the official said.
The trip had yet to be publicly announced when officials gave word the visit would be postponed, likely until next year.
The announcement also came against the backdrop of strategy discussions in the White House and the Pentagon on the US-led war against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
The move to delay the visit was unusual, especially so close to a planned trip.
In the past, Hagel has gone ahead with scheduled tours to Asia even at politically-charged moments.
Last year, Hagel flew to Southeast Asia for a gathering of regional defense ministers in Brunei, even as the Obama administration appeared poised to take military action against the Syrian regime.
The defense official said the decision to postpone the trip should not call into question the Pentagon chief`s commitment to the administration`s strategic "rebalance" to the Asia-Pacific region.
"With more than six trips to the Pacific region already under his belt and landmark agreements concluded this year alone with several regional allies, the secretary has certainly made clear his strong commitment -- and that of this department -- to the rebalance," the official said.
"It would be pure fallacy to derive any other meaning from this postponement."
Visiting Vietnam carries special resonance for Hagel, a veteran who was wounded during the US war in the country.
The trip was to be his first to Vietnam since he took over as defense secretary in 2013.