There is a certain consensus that the international summit organized in Warsaw by the United States last week, on February 13-14, was a failure. The pompous name given to the meeting (Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East) could not hide the main motivation behind the organization of the event: confronting Iran. Clear proof of this came when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted in his English account that Israel sought to make common cause with the Arab countries in the Warsaw Summit “to advance their common interest of war with Iran.”
Even though the original tweet was deleted later and the reference to war was attributed to a mistranslation from Hebrew, the new tweet continued to emphasize the centrality of the Iran file in the Ministerial. In fact, different public remarks made by Netanyahu before and during the Warsaw meeting followed the same line. Moreover, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani encouraged a crowd gathered in Warsaw at the time of the Ministerial by the cult-like Iranian organization Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), whose objective is the overthrow of the current Iranian regime.
Prior to the meeting, there was already a general perception that the Summit would be conceived as an anti-Iran rally by the US. In fact, according to The Guardian, Brussels communicated to Washington that it was “not a very smart idea” to organize a summit that would highlight the differences between the US and the EU over Iran.
At the end, France and Germany sent mid-level officials instead of their Foreign Ministers to the conference and the High Representative of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, decided to boycott the event. These absences marked the failure of the Warsaw Summit from the viewpoint of Washington, specially considering that the US was represented at the highest level by Pence, Pompeo and Jared Kushner. The Trump Administration, however, would never openly (perhaps not even internally) accept this reality. For the American government, the only positive note in terms of European attendance to the conference was the presence of the UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Even so, the British top diplomat came to Warsaw on the condition that a meeting of the so-called Yemen Quad or Quad of Nations (composed of the U.K., U.S., Saudi Arabia and the UAE) would be held on the sidelines of the main conference.
Although the EU common policy is to consider Iran a source of destabilization in the Middle East, Brussels considers that the solution to this lays in exploring opportunities for positive engagement with Iran, being the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal) the maximum expression of this view. At the same time, the EU is not comfortable with the Trump Administration’s belief that all major problems in the Middle East emanate from Tehran.
When the conference started on February 13 it did so without major representation from the European Union but with the presence of a cohort of high representatives of the Arab allies of the US (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan…). Thus, as a consequence of the European rebuke to the Ministerial, there was little incentive for the US and its Middle East allies to hide what everyone had known from the very beginning: that the Warsaw Summit was about countering Iran. The US Vice-President Mike Pence accused Iran of plotting a “new Holocaust”, while the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed that “you can’t achieve stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran. It’s just not possible.”
But not for everyone…
We should not obviate, however, that Israel, together with Poland, the host of the Summit, reaped some benefits from the Ministerial. In the case of Israel, Tel Aviv was able to secure images of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with high-level representatives of Arab countries, regardless of the fact that only Jordan and Egypt recognize the state of Israel. Whereas Netanyahu had already been working successfully in building ties with countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman or Egypt, most of these efforts had been conducted with a certain secrecy.
The Prime Minister capitalized on the fact that he shared a conference stage with 10 Arab foreign ministers by describing this as the “breaking of a taboo.” That this happened shows how the Arab leaders present in the summit have chosen to side-line the Israeli occupation of Palestine for the sake of their anti-Iranian front. By omitting the Palestine issue, the Warsaw Summit gave carte blanche to Israel to continue its apartheid policy and Netanyahu received a particular boost to its re-election campaign.
In the case of Poland, the benefits it gained from hosting the Warsaw Summit have no relation with the Middle East. The ultra-conservative Polish government considers that Russia is a menace for Poland and other Eastern European countries, especially after the annexation of Crimea. As a consequence, Poland, a member of NATO, wants to be assured of Washington’s support in an eventual confrontation with Russia. The idea of hosting the Ministerial was not very attractive in itself, but it proved to be a good way of cajoling the Trump Administration, which recently abandoned the INF Treaty, an arms control agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union signed in 1987.
Before the conference started, the Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz and Mike Pompeo addressed the press together. Czaputowicz talked about the US decision to abandon the INF Treaty, stressing that “the treaty that is only obeyed by one party is not actually a binding one.” He added that the US and Poland share a negative view of Russia’s aggressiveness, “in particular vis-a-vis Ukraine”. Pompeo corresponded and praised Poland’s defense spending since the country is one of the few NATO members that spend more than 2% of its GDP in their military forces, the percentage established as an objective in the 2014 NATO Wales Summit.
Despite the fact that the Foreign Policy of the Trump Administration has proved to be very unpredictable most of the times, it seems that the US has decided to give more importance to Central European and Eastern European countries in its global strategy. In this sense, the Polish government, which had lobbied for the US to establish a permanent base in Poland, received good news last week. Georgette Mosbacher, a significant donor to Republican campaigns and US ambassador to Warsaw, announced in an interview with the Financial Times that “America’s 4,000-strong troop presence in Poland would increase”. Even though she did not confirm that the US would establish a permanent base in Poland, she did not discard it either.
All in all, we can observe that while the United States, the sponsor of the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East, proved unable to secure a wide-ranging and high-ranking attendance to the Warsaw Summit, the conference did not end without some participants emerging as strategical winners. These were, for very different reasons, Israel and Poland.