US-EU discord evident at troubled Warsaw summit
The Warsaw meeting seems to have failed before it even started. This is due mainly to what players in the Middle East see as an unprecedented retreat by US President Donald Trump’s administration in the face of an assertive Russia and Iran.
The conference, as expected, did not rally consensus for a serious drive to change the behavior of the Iranian regime, since the objectives of those meeting in Warsaw were so divergent on the means to confront Tehran in the region and globally.
Maybe the US and Europe should instead have called for a Euro-US meeting to counter the Russian and Iranian Trojan horses within the West, which have been interfering in elections, funding radicals, and promoting an anti-Western narrative.
The US retreat from the Middle East under the Trump administration is making allies jittery, and Trump’s style of erratic decisions on international affairs is pushing all those who orbit the US model of liberal democracy to scramble for containment or bilateral deals to circumvent America’s chaotic foreign policy.
The conference was surely a good photo opportunity but, as it drew to a close on Valentine’s Day, it reflected how fractured our world has become.
The US withdrawal from Syria, the inefficiency of US policies and military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the trade wars with China, the alleged collusion with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Trump’s reservations on the EU as a whole, and his questioning of NATO’s role are examples that will make many diplomats jittery around US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Warsaw.
The proposed meeting of 70-plus foreign ministers in Poland was eventually watered down to 50 or 60 senior representatives, mainly ministers, deputy ministers and ambassadors: A game of numbers that makes Iran, Russia and their allies grin. The initial conference theme of containment of Iran also shifted to become a “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” in order to accommodate allies with economic interests with Iran, mostly Europeans.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has dubbed the meeting in Poland the “Warsaw Circus”. Many Arab countries have for long held Iran responsible for incitement and meddling in their affairs, exporting its Islamic revolution through propping up groups loyal to its cause in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Gaza to undermine the states and societies of those countries.
Trump walked away from what he called a “terrible” 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama, which left Tehran free to develop its ballistic missile technology and pursue its indirect military interference in many Arab countries. But the EU has defied Trump and kept its commitment to the accord by setting up a financial tool for European firms to skirt US sanctions and keep doing business in the Middle East’s second most populous country.
Even Poland — always eager to please Washington as it fears a resurgent Russia — has been at pains to continue backing the agreement. Poland, as co-host, even chose to tone down the conference’s aims to a vague goal of seeking peace in the Middle East, rather than mentioning Iran as the main precursor for the meeting.
European officials, especially those from France and Germany, are livid about the conference, which they see not only as an attempt to increase pressure on Iran, but also to lead EU members into rubber-stamping the US’ Middle East agenda, as championed by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
The sole senior EU power to send its foreign minister will soon be leaving the bloc. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt agreed to attend, if only to ratchet up support for a flagging Yemen cease-fire.
The conference was surely a good photo opportunity but, as it drew to a close on Valentine’s Day, it reflected how fractured our world has become and how tense the relationship between Europe and the US is. Meanwhile, the absence of Russia and China is an indication of the failure of multilateral action and diplomacy in the world today.
Even amongst traditional allies, differences were prominent in Warsaw, as conflict in the Middle East intersected with other global crises like the fear of Russian assertiveness returning to Eastern Europe and the rise in tensions within the EU due to the growth of right-wing populism.
If anything, Warsaw should have been a venue for Europe to clear the air with Washington, as EU officials have expressed outrage at the US’ alleged efforts to widen divisions within the bloc and encourage members to leave the union or downgrade ties with Brussels.
- Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.