“No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there.” The words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which may be an unduly cynical place to start or a welcome dash of reality, depending on one’s point of view. Be that as it may, many continue to set great store by the potential of international conferences to offer new solutions to hitherto intractable problems. And they don’t come much more intractable, it seems, than peace in the Middle East. Thus, Poland enters the fray with plans to hold an international conference on the subject in Warsaw in February.
According to the US State Department, the United States and Poland will jointly host a ministerial meeting to promote peace and security in the Middle East in Warsaw on 13-14thFebruary. “The ministerial will 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,” a State Department statement said.
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Gulf Cooperation Council countries, told Fox News that the meeting would “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security,” including “an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.” The GCC “is essential to countering the single greatest threat to regional stability: the Iranian regime,” the State Department said on Friday, adding Pompeo’s visit to GCC countries is aimed at building support for the US campaign of pressure against Iran.
Needless to say, this news has not been well received in Iran. As reported by PAP, on Sunday the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the chargé d’affaires of the Polish embassy in Tehran to protest against the conference. The chargé d’affaires, Wojciech Unolt, was told that the decision to host the conference was considered to be to be “an act of hostility towards Iran.” According to the Iranian state agency IRNA, Unolt was also informed that Iran might decide to implement retaliatory measures, although he explained the aim of the conference and said it was not anti-Iranian in nature.
As a first step, the Iranian ministry of culture on Sunday announced the suspension of a Polish film festival planned for later this month in Tehran, which suspension would continue until the Polish authorities show proper behaviour towards Iran. Mohammed Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister tweeted on Friday: “Reminder to host/participants of anti-Iran conference: those who attended last US anti-Iran show are either dead, disgraced, or marginalized. And Iran is stronger than ever. Polish Govt can’t wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus.”
It seems unlikely that the Polish government will be deterred. The Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “Poland considers the Middle East peace issue as one of the most important challenges for foreign and defence policy. Halting fighting in this conflict-ridden region is a fundamental issue for ensuring global stability and peace.” The Polish foreign ministry said on Sunday that “the international community has the right to discuss various regional and global issues, and Poland [has the right] to co-organise a conference whose goal is to develop a platform for actions promoting stability and prosperity in the Middle East region.”
The hope of Poland’s foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz is that the US and EU positions on Iran will be brought closer and that the conference will make it possible to build a lasting platform for dialogue. According to him, invitations to the conference have been sent to more than 70 countries, including EU member states and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.
It is perhaps a sign of Poland’s growing confidence in international affairs that it should have chosen to have venture onto this particular diplomatic minefield so publicly. If the conference is a success, it will underline Poland’s position as an increasingly important diplomatic force within the EU and beyond. Given the differing EU and US positions on Iran, some nimble foot work will be required if Poland is to derive lasting benefit from this particular foray into the fraught world of Middle East politics. Supporting the US may well be in Poland’s long-term interests, but with minefields as with much else in life, successfully to rush in where angels dare to tread, requires great fortitude.