US presents Middle East vision in Warsaw, but no converts

The Polish government, which is closely aligned with President Donald Trump, has joined forces with the US to co-host an international conference on the Middle East on Wednesday Feb. 12, 2019 and Thursday Feb. 13 in Warsaw, hoping to strengthen its ties with Washington as its seeks greater protection from Russia. (File/AP)
Updated 13 February 2019

US presents Middle East vision in Warsaw, but no converts

  • The countries that are sending top officials to Warsaw are pushing for a tough line on Iran
  • Iran was not invited to Warsaw and summoned the Polish ambassador to protest

WARSAW: The US is seeking this week in Warsaw to rally the world behind a vision of the Middle East that includes maximum pressure on Iran and strong backing of Israel, but it is winning little fresh support.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month announced the two-day conference starting Wednesday, saying that foreign ministers from around the world would come to Poland to take up the “destabilising influence” of Iran in the Middle East.
A show of unity would serve as a powerful rejoinder to Iran’s clerical regime, which just this week is celebrating 40 years since Islamic zealots toppled the Western-oriented shah.
But with few RSVPs coming, the United States and Poland have toned down the agenda, stating that the conference is not focused on Iran or on building a coalition against it, but rather looking more broadly at the Middle East.
US Vice President Mike Pence will address the conference, whose co-host is Pompeo.
Even though the meeting takes place in the European Union, major European powers are sending low-level representation with the exception of British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who signalled that he primarily wants to address the humanitarian crisis triggered by the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she had previous commitments and Pompeo instead will have breakfast with her in Brussels on his way home.
Even host Poland — which is eager for strong relations with the United States in the face of a resurgent Russia — has stressed that it still joins the European Union in backing a 2015 deal negotiated by former US president Barack Obama to ease sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
President Donald Trump stormed out of the deal last year, calling it “terrible,” and has reimposed sweeping US sanctions aimed at strangling Iran’s economy and curbing its regional power.
The countries that are sending top officials to Warsaw are pushing for a tough line on Iran including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Arab allies of the United States such as the United Arab Emirates.
Netanyahu said that Iran remained the foremost item on the agenda — “how to continue preventing it from entrenchment in Syria, how to thwart its aggression in the region and, above all, how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
Yet the United States is also expected in Warsaw to offer hints of its proposals for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who has been putting final touches on a “deal of the century” for the Middle East, will make a rare speaking appearance on Thursday.
Kushner, whose family is close to Netanyahu, is not expected to unveil the proposal until after the April 9 election in Israel.
The Trump administration faces an uphill climb in selling any deal to the Palestinian Authority, which remains livid over Trump’s landmark 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem — claimed by both peoples — as Israel’s capital.
The Palestinian government — which has labelled the Warsaw conference an “American conspiracy” — has refused talks with the United States until it starts what it calls a more balanced policy.
Iran was not invited to Warsaw and summoned the Polish ambassador to protest. But in a show of diplomatic clout, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will travel during the US-led conference to Russia, which declined to attend in Warsaw.
In the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Rouhani will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Syria, where Trump is pulling out US troops.
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said the Warsaw conference should “initiate a process” on finding stability in the Middle East, with a US official saying that countries will hold follow-up meetings.
Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group think tank, said the United States appeared determined to use Warsaw to expand beyond its anti-Iran coalition of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“I doubt Washington will succeed in achieving this objective, because while many in Europe share US concerns with regards to Iran’s regional activities and ballistic missiles program, they don’t agree with Washington’s one-sided and maximalist view that Iran is the source of all evil in the region,” he said.


Homemade bomb kills Israeli teen, wounds two others in West Bank

Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Homemade bomb kills Israeli teen, wounds two others in West Bank

  • Israeli security forces deployed throughout the area where the attack took place near the settlement of Dolev, northwest of Ramallah, to search for suspects
  • Palestinians sporadically clash with Israeli settlers and security forces in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967, but bomb blasts have been rare in recent years

JERUSALEM: A rare homemade bomb attack in the occupied West Bank killed an Israeli teen and seriously wounded her father and brother Friday as they visited a spring near a Jewish settlement, officials said.
Israeli security forces deployed throughout the area where the attack took place near the settlement of Dolev, northwest of Ramallah, to search for suspects.
Israeli medics had earlier reported that a 17-year-old had been critically wounded in the attack and officials later announced her death, naming her as Rina Shnerb from the central Israeli city of Lod.
Medics from the Magen David Adom rescue service initially gave the ages of the two wounded as 46 and 20, before amending to 21 in the latter case.
The army said the three victims were a father and his two children.
The two wounded were taken by helicopter to hospital, the army said.
“Three civilians who were in a nearby spring were injured in an IED (improvised explosive device) blast,” it said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “harsh terrorist attack” and sent condolences to the family, while pledging to continue building settlements.
“The security arms are in pursuit after the abhorrent terrorists,” he said in a statement.
“We will apprehend them. The long arm of Israel reaches all those who seek our lives and will settle accounts with them.”
United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov condemned the “shocking, heinous” attack, saying there was nothing heroic in Shnerb’s “murder,” calling it a “despicable, cowardly act.”
“Terror must be unequivocally condemned by ALL,” Mladenov wrote on Twitter.
Israeli forces meanwhile entered the Palestinian village of Beitunia, south of the spring, to take footage from surveillance cameras.
An AFP reporter said Palestinians clashed there with Israeli soldiers, but no casualties were reported.
Chief of the army, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi visited the site of the attack to understand the incident and oversee the efforts to locate the perpetrators, which he was “confident” would happen quickly, the military said.
Later in the day, Shnerb was buried in her hometown Lod, with thousands participating in the funeral.
Shnerb’s father Eitan, who was wounded and couldn’t attend the funeral, relayed through an uncle his request that people focus on “our strength and love and the wonderful nation and our good land” and avoid sinking into “weakness and anger and strife.”
“We should be worthy of the great sacrifice we offered today,” Eitan Shnerb was cited by the uncle as saying.
In a speech on Friday, Ismail Haniya, the leader of the Islamist Hamas movement which rules Gaza, praised the attack but did not claim responsibility for it.
He referred to a recent clash between Israeli police and Palestinian worshippers at the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and sought to draw a link between the two incidents.
AFP reporters said thousands of Gazans participated in weekly Friday protests at the Israeli border fence, with some youths using slingshots to launch stones at the barrier and a few approaching it.
The health ministry in the enclave said over 122 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli forces, dozens of them hit by live fire.
Palestinians sporadically clash with Israeli settlers and security forces in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967, but bomb blasts have been rare in recent years.
Palestinian attacks have mostly involved guns, knives and car ramming.
There have been concerns about a possible increase in violence in the run up to Israel’s September 17 general election.
A week ago, a Palestinian carried out a car-ramming attack in the West Bank, wounding two Israelis before being shot dead.
On August 8, an off-duty Israeli soldier’s body was found with multiple stab wounds. Two Palestinian suspects were later arrested.
Late Thursday, a Palestinian threw grenades at Israeli soldiers while attempting to cross the Gaza border and was shot by Israeli forces, leaving him wounded, the army and the Gaza health ministry said.
Gaza militants have also launched six missiles at Israel in the past week; the most recent were on Wednesday.
In retaliation, the Israeli army said it struck “a number of military targets in a Hamas naval facility in the northern Gaza Strip.”