Without Ankara it’s really hard to talk about regional issues - Expert said | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

17 June, Monday

Without Ankara it’s really hard to talk about regional issues - Expert said

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The US intended conference to establish peace in the Middle East on February 13-14 will not see key countries at the round table. Despite the altruistic statement of the US plan to gather countries to tackle an issue with peace, security and stability in the Middle East the Islamic Republic of Iran had a harsh reaction accusing Poland and US on damaging to Iran’s reputation in the region.

As days come closer to the beginning of the conference, the names of the participating countries started to float on the list. Amongst the countries which are not participating, there Turkey, Russia and Syria that planned to meet in Sochi on 14 February for the solution of the Syrian conflict. The political expert at the Centre for International Relations Bruno Surdel elaborates the details of the upcoming event in his interview to Eurasia Diary.  



First of all, could you talk about the overall expectation of this conference to be held on 13-14 February 2019?

Expectations are not high – some of the main world or regional players decided not to attend or were not invited: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Chinese delegation, Iran, Syria (not invited);  Federica Mogherini – ‘foreign minister’ of the European Union skipped the event too. But delegations of some 60 countries confirmed their participation, among the representatives of 10 Arab states, including Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

Obviously, on 14 February there will be a trilateral summit in Sochi between Russia, Turkey and Iran dedicated to the settlement of the Syrian conflict. So also the Turks are not expected to attend the Warsaw conference – and without Ankara, it’s really hard to talk about regional issues. What is possible to achieve in Warsaw? I think this is designed as an opportunity for some Gulf and other Arab states and Israel to share their views on the Middle East problems. Warsaw will be a venue for the Saudis, representatives of UAE and other Tehran’s adversaries to talk with Prime Minister Netanyahu about Iran, its presence in Syria, Iraq, alleged support for Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Hezbollah as well as Palestinian ‘Islamic Jihad’ group. The Americans will try to strengthen the „tacit regional coalition” led by Saudi Arabia and Israel. On the other hand, President Trump’s son in law is expected to present the so-called „century deal” for Palestine – Israel settlement. But the problem is that Palestinians rejected the invitation and called the Warsaw conference an „attempt to destroy the Palestinian National project”. But the Jordanians opted to participate. Generally, the event is very divisive not only with regard to the Middle Eastern countries but Europe too. But one of the conference’s aims is precisely to try to get closer European and American perspective on Iran and the region. This is also declared as the ambition of the Polish government. And indeed the Europeans and Washington share some concerns on Iran, its regional influence, ballistic missiles program, alleged nuclear ambitions, attacks on Iranian opposition groups in Europe, etc. What divides them is Iran nuclear deal of 2015 – JCPOA. The Europeans still want to keep it, want to trade with Tehran and they see the JCPOA as a tool to save the non-proliferation regime.  But it’s rather unlikely as American pressure and sanctions are too powerful. Washington wants to hurt Tehran as much as possible.

In January Iran in the statement had threatened Poland over the progress of summit saying they would resort ‘counteraction’. What would be the consequence if Poland neglects this message?

Warsaw tried to assuage Tehran’s anger and disappointment with a visit of a deputy Foreign Minister in late January. Polish diplomats reassured that the conference on 13-14 February will not be an “Iran-bashing event” but instead focused on a larger issue of peace, stability and security in the Middle East. But to no avail – the Iranians didn’t buy that narrative. And just a few days ago, senior American administration officials said openly that there will be discussions about Iran’s ‘malign behaviour' in the Middle East, its influence in the region, and how to „collectively push back” on them. BTW one of the participants and speakers will be Benjamin Netanyahu – Prime Minister of Israel. So Iran drew conclusion that the agenda will include another attempt to build a kind of ‘anti-Iran’ coalition. When it comes to Iran’s counteraction against Poland, I don’t really think that Tehran can do much. Big Polish companies cannot do business with Iran anyway, because of US sanctions, and European INSTEX mechanism can not help in this respect due to its rather symbolic value and uncertainty whether it will be activated at all. On the other hand, the real issue is a damage inflicted on Poland – Iran relations. I mean – creating a ‘foe’ in the region. But that’s not sure: everything depends on what happens during the ‘Ministerial’, what kind of statements will be made by the participants. Anyway, the understanding in Warsaw is that Washington is the only foreign power and NATO ally which can protect Poland against Russia. So when the Trump administration chose Warsaw as the venue of its conference – Warsaw could not say „No”. Even if the price is a possible – short term - hostility of Iran, or lowering of the level of diplomatic relations between the two countries. It’s Realpolitik, unfortunately. For Poland, the conference is a way to strengthen its strategic partnership with the USA. After all, the US vice-president Mike Pence is acting as a joint host of the event.

Does this conference serve for pressuring Iran for maritime activity on the Gulf? Will GCC support America against Iran?

The Saudis, Emiratis – yes. This is what they wish to do. American endeavour is aimed at creating a kind of an Arab NATO – to contain Tehran’s influence in the region with tacit cooperation with Israel. To isolate Iran. Apart from Qatar, Turkey – which is a strong regional power - is also not interested in Iran’s isolation despite all the differences it has with Tehran. Also, Qatar is not willing to subscribe to the anti-Iran agenda. But in the Persian/Arab Gulf, Iran has not much leverage taking into account American maritime dominance. What is interesting is the coincidence of the Warsaw conference with the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The Americans, Saudis and Israelis wish it to be the last year of the Iranian theocratic regime. The maximum economic pressure is set to continue. The maritime tensions are also likely to go high.


Interview by Elnur Mammadli

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