Poland and the United States will co-host an international ministerial conference on “the Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” in the Polish capital Warsaw on February 13-14, a senior official from the Polish foreign ministry and his counterpart at the US State Department announced during a press briefing on January 28.
Both officials said the conference aims to gather ministerial-level representatives from the region as well as from parties with interests in the wider Middle East.
According to the two officials, which was later confirmed by the US’ Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, the gathering will include discussions on missile development and proliferation, the humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen, the status of the region’s Kurdish population, terrorism, Israel’s security, money laundering, and emerging threats from cyber warfare.
Sondland also addressed the issue of Iran, saying representatives from the US and EU are not conducting the meeting with the purpose of setting up an “anti-Iranian agenda” but both have recognised the depth of the Islamic Republic’s “destructive policies in the region” and that Iran’s “expansionist revolutionary foreign policy” in places such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen are the “principal driver” of instability in the Middle East, which is why, according to the senior officials who briefed the press, the discussion “inevitably gravitates towards Iran”.
Russia – the main foreign ally of the regimes in Damascus and Tehran – will not be attending the conference, a move that both the Polish and US officials said they found regrettable as it will hinder the international community’s efforts find concrete solutions to long-standing problems in the Middle East.
Sondland, while responding to a question from New Europe regarding whether the plight of the Kurds will be on the agenda of the meeting, reinforced the US’ stance that having an open discussion about important regional issues, such as the Kurdish question, is a key reason why the nations who have interests in the Middle East need to be in attendance.
The Special Payments Vehicle that has been floated by some EU countries who are hostile to the Americans’ newly re-assertive posture towards the Iranian government after the White House reintroduced stiff economic sanctions against Tehran may also be addressed at the conference. The proposed agency would assist Iran in circumventing US sanctions, but the so-called SPV has yet to see the light of day as no EU member has been willing to host the agency out of fear that they would then be subject to the US’ sanctions.
This agenda-setting conference is the first initiative of its kind by the Trump Administration. For over two years, the diplomatic agenda in the Middle East has been dominated by UN initiatives and trilateral meetings between Russia, Iran, and Turkey. The one significant exception was a meeting between stakeholders to the Yemen conflict in Stockholm, Sweden – an initiative by former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who resigned in December after disagreeing with Trump over the latter’s sudden decision to pull US troops out of Syria and Afghanistan.
The conference will serve to highlight the continued rise of Poland as a major NATO ally, one that has played a significant role in the Middle East for decades. In the lead-up to the conference, Senior Polish officials reiterated Warsaw’s continued support for the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – also known as the Iran nuclear deal – and Warsaw’s commitment to contributing to US efforts aimed at curbing the activities of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps both in Europe and the Middle East.