US, Israeli leaders aim to use Poland summit to increase pressure on Iran
US Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were expected Wednesday in Warsaw for a 60-nation conference that they hope will raise the international stakes for Iran. But the two-day conference will also lay bare divisions, with major European allies of the United States sending low-profile representatives amid unease over President Donald Trump's strident calls to strangle Iran's economy.
Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will join the Polish government in welcoming officials at a dinner at the Royal Castle in Warsaw's old town, the home for centuries to monarchs. While much of the schedule remained vague, the main session will take place Thursday when Pence, Pompeo and Netanyahu all deliver remarks and working groups are assigned to discuss areas of concern.
"This is a global coalition that is built to deliver on the important mission of reducing the risk that has emanated from the Middle East for far too long," Pompeo said Tuesday evening as he opened his visit to Poland. Netanyahu is likely to deliver a fiery address on Iran, whose leaders reject Israel's existence.
He has vowed to keep striking Iranian forces until they leave war-torn Syria and has not ruled out a military strike to destroy the nuclear programme of Tehran. But outside of Israel, Iran's Arab rivals and the Trump administration, nearly all countries still back an accord negotiated under previous US president Barack Obama in which Iran agreed to end sensitive nuclear work in return for sanctions relief.
Even Poland's right-wing government -- eager to please the United States amid constant worries over Russia -- has made clear it supports the 2015 nuclear deal, to which UN inspectors say Iran is abiding. "The European Union and the United States see the same threats in the Middle East; we sometimes differ on how to solve these crises," Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told a joint news conference with Pompeo.
Poland, whose ambassador in Tehran was summoned in protest, has taken pains after Pompeo's initial announcement to emphasise that Iran is not the sole focus of the conference. "The EU does not have enough political weight to really try to influence the situation in the Middle East," Czaputowicz said, adding that all "democratic nations" needed to come together to resolve longstanding tensions in that region.
Ned Price, a former Obama adviser and intelligence official, said that the Warsaw conference will only showcase the Trump administration's isolation as European allies did not want to be part of an "anti-Iran pep rally". "More than merely embarrassing, the administration's stated 'maximum pressure' approach is incoherent, as America lacks allies willing to support such a strategy," said Price, now at the National Security Action pressure group.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is the only major European diplomat to come to Warsaw, but he is attending primarily to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where several million people are on the brink of starvation. Hunt will participate in a four-way meeting Wednesday evening with Pompeo and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have waged a devastating US-backed military campaign against Yemen's Iranian-linked Huthi rebels.
Russia is shunning the conference and will hold parallel talks Thursday in the resort of Sochi with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Syria, where Trump is planning to withdraw US troops. In Warsaw, Turkey said it will only send embassy staff to the conference among its NATO allies.
One group that will be out in force will be the People's Mujahedin, Iran's formerly armed opposition. The People's Mujahedin, which was delisted as a terrorist movement by the United States in 2012, has cultivated close ties with US conservatives including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who will speak at a rally by the group in Warsaw.
(With inputs from agencies.)
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