The Warsaw “ministerial”

Summary: conference in Warsaw shifts focus from Iran to a wider agenda. “A new era” (Mike Pence) – not

It is a commonplace among officials experienced in organising high-level international meetings that preparation is all-important and that an unprepared meeting is unlikely to do good and may do harm. Seen from the outside this can be interpreted as the determination of officials, Yes Minister style, to keep political leaders under control. Colonel Qadhafi made the point in one of his most successful international japes when he published the agreed communiqué of an Arab summit meeting before the meeting took place.

The “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” taking place in Warsaw yesterday 13 February and today was not well-prepared, or prepared at all, even as regards the basic elements of attendance, agenda and objectives. As we commented in our posting of 24 January it was convened at short notice by the US and Polish governments which issued a joint statement on 11 January. The statement referred to “peace and security in the Middle East”, but Mike Pompeo made clear to Fox News that the focus would be on Iran. This was followed by immediate refusals to attend from Russia, Lebanon (because Israel is invited – the Lebanese refusal was announced by the Foreign Minister at a joint press conference with the Iranian Foreign Minister who was visiting Beirut), Turkey (“participation in such a meeting that targets one country is out of the question”) and the EU high representative Federica Mogherini (because of “scheduling issues”). The Iranian government complained formally to Poland.

Later statements broadened the agenda, taking the focus away from Iran. The Polish Foreign Minister said the meeting would discuss Syria, Yemen and a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians as well as a mix of items some of which appeared to point to Iran – missile proliferation, counterterrorism, others not – energy security, humanitarian aid. His only direct mention of Iran was to note that there was disagreement on the nuclear deal. However a former Polish ambassador told Al Jazeera “[Poland] has lost control over the general message of the conference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Benjamin Netanyahu did not beat about the bush; speaking after a meeting with the Omani Foreign Minister he said that he was to meet 60 foreign ministers and envoys including Arab leaders “sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran” (although his office later changed the official translation).

Invitations have not gone badly: about 70 governments were invited, about 60 are attending, about 50 of them at ministerial level. In addition to Pompeo the USA has Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s senior advisers Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner who are expected to give some information on the long-awaited “deal of the century”. The UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is there and has co-hosted a “Quad meeting” with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to discuss the Yemen crisis. The Italian Foreign Minister is also there.   France is represented at “an appropriate level”, later interpreted as by the political director (senior Foreign Ministry official). Germany also has not sent a minister, Italy has.

Palestine is not present, and there is disagreement as to whether it was invited (on 7 February the State Department spokesman didn’t know); Martin Indyk said not, Jason Greenblatt corrected him and said Palestine was invited. Saeb Erekat had said on 8 February that Palestine would not go, and that the conference was an attempt at bypassing the Arab peace initiative and destroying the Palestinian national project, adding “Regarding statements that we have been invited, we can say that only today there was some contact from the Polish side.”

Pence told the conference he believed “we are beginning a new era with Prime Minister Netanyahu and leaders from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, all breaking bread together”. Reuters comments that “A photo-op with Netanyahu and senior figures from Arab countries in Warsaw would be a win for Washington as it seeks to ratchet up pressure against Tehran”; Arabs seem

to be missing from the only “family photograph” we have seen so far.

The Abu Dhabi-based The National quotes a number of European diplomats critical of the erratic policy of the Trump administration which had increased security risks faced by France, Germany and Britain. “Speaking on condition of anonymity, officials from all three countries criticised Wednesday’s summit convened in Warsaw by US Secretary Mike Pompeo, with one describing it as ‘an unhelpful sideshow announced without any consultation or regard for America’s traditional partners’ ”. Other comments are “It’s a series of chaotic decisions being made at random,” and “The US had one meeting with the Poles and decided that they’d hold a ministerial [gathering]. They didn’t ask anyone else if they would come. It’s a classic example of their lack of thinking things through.”

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