A conference in Warsaw this week was billed as reinstating the US’ lead role in diplomacy for the Mideast. The absence of Russia and other European leaders only served to expose the ill-conceived summit and Washington’s isolation.
When the forum was initially planned last year by the Trump administration, the purpose was to bring Washington back in from the diplomatic cold which it had opted for by abandoning the international nuclear accord with Iran.
Trump’s tearing up of the Iran deal in May 2018 had isolated the US from other signatories: Russia, China and the Europeans. By holding a high-level conference on Iran, the idea was to burnish Washington’s diplomatic standing in the Middle East.
The trouble was that from the outset most would-be participants saw the real agenda of the meeting as an attempt by Washington to drum up international support for further antagonizing Iran with economic sanctions.
Despite recent official US denials of seeking regime change in Tehran, the long-term pattern of flagrant hostility from President Trump and others in his administration betrayed Washington’s real intentions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been labeling the Warsaw event “a desperate anti-Iran circus.” Last month, it was evident that European states were going to give the conference a miss on the grounds that the thinly veiled agenda would further undermine EU efforts at preserving the Iran deal.
This week’s conference – although slated as a “ministerial summit” – was conspicuous by the absence of senior delegates. Russia, Turkey, Qatar and Lebanon did not attend. Neither did many European leaders, including EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
The American side sent a high-profile delegation headed by Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Also present were Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and “special advisor” on Middle East policy.
The void in senior foreign participants – especially Russia which has become the main external player in Middle Eastern affairs following its successful military intervention in Syria – only goes to show how diminished Washington’s role has become.
Realizing its anti-Iran agenda was not going to gain much traction, Washington rebranded the Warsaw conference in an attempt to give it an apparently more general regional remit. The event’s updated title proclaiming the “Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” was intended to not alienate others over the initial hostile focus on Iran.
Hence the agenda was broadened out to include discussions on Syria, Yemen and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Still, however, Iran was not invited. How can a supposed Middle East peace and security conference be held without the inclusion of Iran, an undoubted regional powerhouse?
How could discussions on Syria be expected to be productive when the Syrian government is not present, nor its main ally Russia?
There were no delegations from the Houthi rebels in Yemen, nor the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians have boycotted Trump’s much-vaunted peace plan, headed up by Jared Kushner, ever since Washington’s recognition last year of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as well as ongoing suspicions of additional transgressions against Palestinian rights, such as return of refugees.
On the eve of the Warsaw conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled back the curtains when he revealed the gathering was intended to solidify the “common interest of war with Iran.” Netanyahu’s tweet was quickly deleted but not before it was widely disseminated by critics.
Iran noted it was “no coincidence” that on the first day of the conference in Warsaw, the country saw the worst terrorist attack in years on its soil when 27 of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in a suicide bombing claimed by a jihadist group. Tehran asserted that the terrorist group had links to “foreign intelligence services.”
While attending the summit, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani openly called for regime change in Iran. Giuliani also spoke at a rally in Warsaw organized by the Iranian exile group Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK). The group has been linked to past terrorist attacks in Iran aimed at overthrowing the government in Tehran. It is not clear if the MEK had any involvement in this week’s deadly bombing, but its delegates in Warsaw who had been hosting Giuliani cheered the killing of the Iranian guards, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry.
Earlier this week, Iran celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Islamic revolution. The anniversary was vilified by Trump as “40 years of terror.” His National Security Advisor John Bolton also directed a message to Iran’s leadership saying its time was up. Israel’s Netanyahu also gloated in a chilling warning that the anniversary could be the last.
Yet, preposterously, American officials tried to pretend that the Warsaw conference was not a “trash Iran” event. Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, griped that the non-attendance of European leaders was “an unhelpful act.”
Andrew Miller, a former diplomat in the Obama administration, was quoted as saying it was unprecedented for such a de facto boycott by American allies of a supposedly landmark summit.
But of course, what does Washington expect? The Trump administration has shown such a high-handed contempt for diplomatic norms, even towards its purported European allies.
It has also revealed itself as riven with contradictions and shambles over its Middle East policy. Is the US withdrawing from Syria or not? The mixed signals out of Washington on this one issue alone is symbolic of the general incoherence and faltering leadership in the White House.
President Trump seems to want to have his cake and eat it. He wants “America First” unilateralism and is all too quick to ride roughshod over allies and their interests – the Iran nuclear deal being a classic case.
Then when the Trump administration tries to mitigate the damage of its bruising behavior and to hold a supposed multilateral conference on the Middle East, the upshot is very few give the event any credence or respect.
It’s abundantly clear that Washington has no intention for “peace and security” in the Middle East. Its charade of posing as a diplomatic arbiter is coming apart at the seams. But the farce that is American diplomacy is revealing how irrelevant Washington’s role has become.
Most nations know that Washington’s obsession with confronting Iran is not a viable policy. Indeed, it is a reprehensible pathology which only seems to resonate with the unhinged regimes of Israeli and Saudi warmongering despots, both of whom were prominent in Warsaw this week.
Even the mere choice of venue was telling of America’s declining status. Poland has been sucking up to Washington with its purchase of US missile systems and its request for the Americans to build a new military base in the country, which Warsaw proposes to call ‘Fort Trump.’ A former Polish diplomat even complained that the Warsaw government had no input into the summit agenda, which he said was dominated by Washington, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The Trump administration knew it had to hold its Mideast summit in Poland this week because it would not be welcome in Western European states. It’s a sign of the times when US diplomacy seems to be only hosted by marginal European states who are too obsequious to snigger at the farce
By Finian Cunningham