A major U.S.-organized Middle East conference is under way in Poland, a NATO member that has tightened cooperation with Washington as a counterweight to Russia’s influence in Central and Eastern Europe.
Iran appears to be the main focus of the February 13-14 conference in Warsaw, and Tehran has labeled the gathering as a hostile act and warned of unspecified consequences for Poland.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz are the official hosts of the two-day conference, where senior officials from 60 nations are expected to attend.
Among high-ranking attendees are U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
U.S. sources told RFE/RL that more than 20 other countries from around the world were due to participate at a ministerial level, including Britain, Bulgaria, Italy, Georgia, Romania, Ukraine, South Korea, Brazil, and a number of Arab states such as Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
‘We think we will make real progress,’ Pompeo told reporters in Slovakia, where he visited en route to Poland. ‘We think there’ll be dozens of nations there seriously working towards a better, more stable Middle East, and I’m hoping by the time we leave on Thursday we’ll have achieved that.’
A U.S. administration official said late last month that the conference was ‘not an anti-Iran meeting or a coalition-building exercise,’ but that Pompeo will discuss what the official called ‘Iran’s destructive policies in the region.’
The conference is controversial. The European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and multiple Western European foreign ministers are staying away, as is Russia.
Moscow views with concern ‘U.S. attempts to impose unilateral geopolitical interests through initiatives presented as opinions of the entire international community,’ the Russian Foreign Ministry said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.
Addressing a press conference in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that he believed the Warsaw conference was ‘dead on arrival.’
‘It is another attempt by the United States to pursue an obsession with Iran that is not well-founded,’ he also said.
Guillaume Xavier-Bender, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, told RFE/RL that the possible outcome of the event was unclear.
‘You cant have a discussion about peace in the Middle East without Russia, Iran, and everyone involved there,’ Xavier-Bender said.
‘The outcome of this conference is a mystery for everyone at this stage, because it wont be a deal on how to move forward with Iran. There wont be a declaration on how the U.S. and its partners in Europe can actually move forward with the Middle East peace process’ between Israel and the Palestinians, he added.
The gathering also comes as Poland is pushing for the United States to open a permanent U.S. base on its territory. The U.S. Defense Department is expected to reveal its assessment of the proposal next month.
Washington and its EU allies are also at odds over the fate of the 2015 nuclear treaty that saw Iran curtailing its nuclear ambitions in exchange for Western countries lifting crippling economic sanctions.
President Donald Trump’s administration has moved to undo the deal and reimpose sanctions. EU nations, however, criticized the move and sought to keep aspects of the deal in place.
In a news conference in Warsaw on February 12, Czaputowicz said transatlantic cooperation was necessary to resolve conflicts in the Middle East.
‘The European Union alone does not, in my opinion, carry sufficient political weight to try to really influence the situation in the Middle East,’ he told reporters.
In remarks just ahead of the Warsaw conference, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that any negotiations with the United States ‘will bring nothing but material and spiritual harm.’
He also said that Tehran must be careful to limit any dealings with some ‘untrustworthy’ European states, adding that the country ‘must not retreat a single step from national and revolutionary values.’
With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa, Interfax, and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda RFE/RL
RFE/RL journalists report the news in 25 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.
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