By Robert Johnson
Nearly four months after the U.S. Department of State released on the eve of the Islamic Revolution’s 40th anniversary a 48-page report ‘Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran’s Destructive Activities’, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made a much frowned upon announcement that an international summit on the security and stability of the Middle East will be held on February 13 and 14 in Poland’s capital city Warsaw.
Since that announcement on January 11, few details about the agenda of the event have been revealed. Pompeo said the gathering 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.”
But Poland has emphasised that the summit is not anti-Iranian. In its only statement to date regarding “the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East,” the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said: “The ministerial will be a forum for countries concerned about instability in the region to share their assessments and offer ideas on a better way forward. 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.”
Who will attend? Again, the answer is that we don’t know. According to the Polish MFA, “countries from across the globe have been invited to participate.” Some 70 states are reported to have been approached, but not Iran.
“If this is true, it would be a mistake – even if Iran is considered a ‘regional trouble-maker,’ it’s hard to imagine that the region’s problems can be solved without Tehran’s involvement,” writes Robert Czulda, an assistant professor at the University of Lodz, Poland, in a blog for the Atlantic Council. He is a former visiting professor at Islamic Azad University in Iran, the University of Maryland and National Cheng-chi University in Taiwan.
While Tehran has dismissed the meeting as a “desperate anti-Iranian circus”, the European Union (EU) is struggling for a common position. A senior official told reporters in Brussels that the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will not attend the Warsaw summit.
“She does not like to de-commit from promises made,” the EU diplomat said.
The announcement of Mogherini’s absence has supplemented recent reports – confirmed by the senior EU official that several EU foreign ministers are holding off confirming their participation in the Warsaw summit. Germany is one of the countries that has yet to decide whether to send its representative to Warsaw.
Though the summit itself was not on the EU ministerial meeting agenda, Poland, as the host country has however asked to present the summit and it is possible that the ministers “might have a reflection on whether to participate”, the EU diplomat added.
“The EU has clear positions on all Middle East-related files,” said the European Commission when asked about coordination on a common EU position during the summit, reported EURACTIV.
European Union leaders agreed on May 17, 2018 a “united approach” to salvage the Iran nuclear agreement and deal with the trade tariffs U.S. President Donald Trump planned to impose on European steel and aluminium.
Relations between Tehran and Washington have been tense following last year’s decision by Trump to withdraw from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reinstate sanctions on the country, including on Iran’s crucial oil sector.
“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 joint statement by the co-hosting countries read.
Iran has nevertheless cancelled a Polish film festival to be held end of January. And Poland has been officially accused of joining an anti-Iranian axis and spreading Iranophobia. The Iranian Foreign Ministry also warned Poland and other summit participants of unspecified “retaliatory measures.”
“A reminder to the host/participants of the anti-Iranian conference: those who took part in the last U.S. anti-Iran show are either dead, disgraced or marginalised,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.
This remark stands on stark contrast to what the State Department report published end of September 2018 says about Iran. The report begins with a letter by Pompeo, and details the Iranian regime’s “destructive behavior” under seven headings, detailing Iran’s support for terrorism, its missile program, illicit financial activities in Iran, threat to maritime security, threat to cybersecurity, the abuse of human rights in Iran and environmental exploitation.
In his introductory letter, Secretary Pompeo explains the reasons for the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran as well as the consequences of the withdrawal from JCPOA for Iran. His narrative is that the deal failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile program. With a weaker nonproliferation regime to constrain its activity, Iran had continued to defy international scrutiny and its pace of missile launches and tests had not diminished following the implementation of the JCPOA.
Pompeo then explains President Trump’s Iran policy, arguing that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is not a normal state,” explaining that “Normal states do not attack embassies and military installations in peacetime; fuel terrorist proxies and militias; serve as a sanctuary for terrorists; call for the destruction of Israel and threaten other countries; aid brutal dictators such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad; proliferate missile technology to dangerous proxies; conduct covert assassinations in other countries; and hold hostage citizens of foreign nations.”
He adds that normal states do not squander their own natural resources, do not violently suppress legitimate protests, jail their own citizens or those of other countries on specious crimes, engage in torture, and impose severe restrictions on basic freedoms.
Pompeo describes the report as “a full record of the Islamic Republic’s hostile behavior abroad and its repression at home beyond the continued threat of its nuclear program.”
The report alleges: “The one constant is that the Iranian regime will do whatever it takes to maintain its grip on power and spread its revolutionary ideology.
“The regime’s primary tool to execute this mission since 1979 has been the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC is the most powerful conglomerate in Iran, spreading and consolidating its control over much of Iranian life.
“Its navy regularly threatens freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf while its Aerospace Force directs the country’s ballistic missile program in defiance of Security Council resolutions. Its Ground Forces are deployed abroad to bolster the Assad regime and its Basij paramilitary force is mobilized at home to surveil and harass ordinary Iranians. Finally, its extra-territorial IRGC Qods Force (IRGC-QF) leads the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing support for proxies and terrorist groups.”