Poland summit: What to expect at this week’s U.S.-sponsored “Ministerial to promote Peace and Security in the Middle East”

It was announced in early January: an international summit in Warsaw on February 13-14, sponsored by Poland and the U.S., with a focus on Iran and the Middle East. While the State Department said in a press release the “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” would “address a range of critical issues including terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was quick to label it an “anti- Iran conference” on Twitter, adding that “while Iran saved Poles in WWII it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus.”

The summit’s announcement came amid U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s eight-day tour of nine Middle Eastern nations including Egypt, where he delivered a fiery address students at the American University in Cairo rebuking former president Barack Obama’s foreign policy in the region and touting a “new beginning” under the Trump administration. Pompeo spoke of how American partners from South Korea to Poland “have joined our effort to stop Iran’s wave of regional destruction and global campaigns of terror.”

The summit is the latest volly in the increasingly tense relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East’s second- largest country. In May, the U.S. pulled out the of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Under the deal, which Iran agreed to along with the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany, Iran was to lower its enriched uranium stockpile and the number of centrifuges it housed for 15 years, as well as submit to inspections and monitoring from the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, Iran would get relief from sanctions imposed by the U.S., U.N., and EU.

While international inspectors have repeatedly stated that Iran is in compliance with the bill, the Trump administration’s pullout went beyond concern over Iranian nuclear capabilities, according to DePaul political science professor Scott Hibbard.

“The reason the Trump administration and others feel the JCPOA was so horrific is that it only dealt with the nuclear deal and it didn’t deal with Iraninan support for [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, Hezbollah and all these other regional actors,” he said. “It did nothing to contain Iranian ambitions in the region.”

At the Poland summit this week, those concerns will likely be on full display.

Bruce Reidel, a counter-terrorism expert and senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East policy, said that while the U.S. does not have global support for its hardline stance on Iran, he predicts “In Poland Pompeo will get support against Iran’s involvement in terrorism but not much more.”

No practical results are likely to emerge from this talkfest.

— Paul Pillar, Former senior CIA officer and non-resident senior fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University

Last month in an effort to assuage concerns that the summit will be entirely centered on Iran, U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen told a Jan. 22 U.N. Security Council meeting that “It is not a forum to re-litigate the merits of the JCPOA” and “It is also not a venue to demonize or attack Iran.”

Earlier in January Poland’s charges d’affaires expressed similar sentiments to an Iranian foreign ministry official, according to Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA. Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs later confirmed the meeting, saying in a statement that “the international community has the right to discuss various regional and global issues, and Poland — to co-organise a conference, whose goal is to develop a platform for actions promoting stability and prosperity in the Middle East region.”

While the full list of participants in the event is not known, E.U. foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini, representatives from Russia and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have said they will not attend. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed his attendance earlier this month.

Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA officer now with Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, said the summit is unlikely to break new ground. “European governments will participate with the intention of trying to steer discussion toward a broader examination of Middle Eastern security issues and not make it just an anti-Iran show,” he said. “Expect to hear speeches from the Europeans along this line and expect to hear primarily Iran-bashing from the U.S. participants.

“No practical results are likely to emerge from this talkfest,” he added.

Hibbard said another issue hovering over the event is the fact that while the U.S. has pulled out of the JCPOA, many European nations have not.

“Part of the trip to Poland is to put pressure on the Europeans and get them behind efforts to support this coalition to confront Iran,” he said. “Part of the idea is, Europe is split and this is an effort to further split it.”

The EU has been attempting to salvage the deal in part by creating a “special purpose vehicle” for monetary transactions that would allow it to bypass U.S. sanctions.

The U.S., meanwhile, enjoys support for its position on Iran from regional rivals like Israel and Saudi Arabia. When Pompeo speaks to these countries, “he’s preaching to the choir,” Hibbard said. But when he goes to other countries, as he and other top U.S. officials will in Warsaw, more questions remain.

“What about the Saudis? They’re still funding all these Sunni Jihadist groups,” he said. “What about the Palestinian- Israeli conflict? What about X, what about Y, what about Z? What about economic development in the region, what about human rights? Pompeo’s talked about none of those issues, and all he’s really talked about is Iran, Iran, Iran. It’s really striking.”