Jan 26, 2019, 10:57 PM
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Warsaw’s “Iran” Summit designed to ensure European unity

Tehran, Jan 26, IRNA- The EU is united in its belief that, beyond reflexive hostility, the US has no effective strategy toward Iran. A pointless conference in Poland will not change that The Trump administration’s blunderbuss approach to Iran policy, by contrast, seems designed to ensure European unity, Loblog wrote in an article.

This month, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced that the United States and Poland would jointly host a summit that will include “an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence” in the Middle East. Due to take place in Warsaw on February 12-13, the conference is viewed as controversial both in European capitals and Tehran. It could signal a gradual unraveling of European unity on Iran policy.

The European Council on Foreign Relations experts Jeremy Shapiro, Ellie Geranmayeh, and Piotr Buras in an article in Loblog website consider how the summit is viewed from the perspective of the US, Poland, and Iran, and recommend next steps for other European countries.

Jeremy Shapiro on the View from Washington wrote, “What if they held a conference on Iran’s influence in the Middle East and nobody came? Well, in the case of the February summit, we may soon find out. Mike Pompeo announced that Poland would host this event during a January eight-country trip to the Middle East. The United States and Poland intend to invite some 70 countries, though pointedly not Iran itself.”

“The purpose of the conference is probably to keep US anti-Iranian activity in the news and sustain the narrative that the US and Pompeo are “doing something”.

The foreign ministers of Russia and France, and the European Union high representative, have already said they will not go. The United Kingdom, Germany, and China may well follow suit. It is not clear what a ‘coalition of the willing’ that includes none of the parties to the Iran nuclear deal besides the United States can really hope to accomplish. A joint communiqué describing Iranian malign influence signed by some Sunni Arab states and a bunch of US allies with no connection to the Middle East is unlikely to further isolate Iran.”, Shapiro noted.

He reiterated, “The moment the idea fell from Pompeo’s lips, speculation ran rampant that the US sought to ‘divide the EU’ over Iran. But as so often in the Trump administration, observers are mistaking the pseudo-random emanations of a confused policy process for some sort of purposeful strategy.” “Dividing the EU on Iran would not really be that hard, but first the US would have to take the Europeans seriously and design a policy to exploit the seams between the EU countries with influence over Iran, particularly the UK, France, Germany, and Italy. The Trump administration’s blunderbuss approach to Iran policy, by contrast, seems designed to ensure European unity.”, the expert wrote.

“More probably, the purpose of the conference is simply to keep US anti-Iran activity in the news and sustain the narrative that the US and Pompeo are “doing something” about the malign influence of Iran. It is consistent with a US policy towards Iran that to date has been much more focused on inputs than outputs. The US wants to keep up the pressure on Iran, but has never really described how it expects to translate that pressure into better behavior from Iran.”

Shapiro concluded, “Is the US seeking regime change, the wholesale destruction of the Iranian economy, or perhaps to provoke Iranian escalation as a prelude to war? It is not at all clear, even apparently to the administration itself. It is hard to divide the EU if you cannot explain to its members what precisely they should be divided about. At the moment, the EU is united in its belief that, beyond reflexive hostility, the US has no effective strategy toward Iran. A pointless conference in Poland will not change that.”

Ellie Geranmayeh about the View from Tehran stressed, “It is no surprise that Warsaw’s decision to partner up with the Trump administration in hosting the summit went down poorly in Tehran. Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif was quick to tweet a reminder of the time when Iran took in over 100,000 Polish refugees, noting “Polish Govt can’t wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus.” Other Iranian officials have described the summit as a “game” being played by Iran’s enemies, and warned that Poland’s miscalculation will be met with a “serious and uncompromising response”.

“But news of the summit was not a great surprise to Tehran: rumors have circulated for months that the United States planned to hold such a conference. Some speculated that the event is targeted to overshadow the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution the same week. Tehran views the summit an another attempt by the US to isolate the country, and divide European countries over their Iran policy. Iran knows that the Trump administration has exerted considerable effort to persuade European capitals into the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, an outcome Tehran is keen to avoid.”, he further noted.

The expert wrote, “In response to the announced summit, Iran has so far summoned Poland’s top envoy in Tehran and cancelled a Polish film festival due to be held later this month. Some have speculated that Iran may tighten visa requirement for Polish tourists.. It is unclear, beyond this, how Tehran can or will retaliate to create a cost for those countries attending the conference.”

“In an attempt to contain the fallout, a Polish delegation led by deputy foreign minister Maciej Lang visited Tehran this week. The diplomatic outreach has eased some tensions with Tehran although the Iranian authorities say they are unconvinced by Poland’s explanations for hosting the event and excluding Iran. Iran is likely to assess its full retaliation based on what actually comes out of the Warsaw summit and, importantly, the level of European representation at the meeting.”, Geranmayeh expressed.”

He ended his remarks, “If the summit ultimately fails it may serve Tehran’s interest not to over-react and instead point to this as another failed attempt by Washington to turn the world against Iran.”

Piotr Buras another expert on the View from Poland expressed his Ideas, “ Poland is not an obvious choice as the location for the Middle East conference, to say the least. The country’s political and economic stakes in Iran are not high, and its record of engagement in the region is rather moderate. Warsaw is the capital of a central European EU and NATO member state, not a neutral place like Geneva, Helsinki, or Vienna where difficult multilateral negotiations usually take place.”

“The assumption that Poland’s interest in holding the controversial meeting lies primarily in its bid for a special partnership with the US is thus not far-fetched. In March 2019, US decisions about further enhancement of American military presence in Poland (“Fort Trump”) are expected – a goal which enjoys absolute priority in current Polish security and foreign policy. This is not the right moment to oppose American demands, especially for a government known for its sympathies with Donald Trump and tense relations with EU partners.”, he noted.

The expert went on, “But should the conference go beyond these national strategic considerations after all? Warsaw has not given up on its support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and has thus not broken the European Union’s consensus – that was the message conveyed by Poland’s foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz at the Foreign Affairs Council last Monday. Poland believes that, while the EU should try to rescue the agreement, doing so at any cost would be counterproductive.”

The expert reiterated, “The Warsaw summit has left many European capitals feeling extremely uncomfortable. The E3 in particular want to avoid a new public showdown with Washington over the nuclear agreement. While they broadly agree that Iranian regional behavior should change, they disagree with the confrontational US approach, fearing that it will feed further destabilizing regional instability.

Ultimately, the best-case scenario for Europe would be for the US administration to pull the plug on the summit because of low turnout. A number of European ministers have already declined attendance, citing preexisting commitments. There are also signs that the US sees a need to reconfigure the summit, moving beyond a focus on confronting Iran, to avoid embarrassment by securing broader attendance.

Failing that, European governments should take steps that preserve European unity and avoid undermining Europe’s efforts to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). While working to address Iran’s regional positioning, they should seek to ensure this does not feed a polarizing zero-sum approach. In that light EU countries should:

Avoid sending ministerial representation to the summit, instead committing lower-level officials. This should involve a coordinated approach to reduce the impact of bilateral US pressure to secure ministerial participation.

“An agreed common position must therefore firmly underscore Europe’s commitment to the nuclear agreement, including support for the special purpose vehicle (SPV) mechanism that aims to sustain some trade with Iran by working around US sanctions.”

Before committing to attend the Poland summit, European countries should ensure they have full transparency as to the meeting agenda, and be vigilant to avoid a scenario in which Poland and the US, as co-chairs of the summit, effectively ambush participants by unilaterally releasing a concluding statement from the meeting on behalf of the participants.”, he concluded.

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