Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz (R) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shake hands during a joint press conference Image Credit: AFP

Highlights

  • Pompeo predicts 'real progress' at meeting on Middle East 
  • Several EU powers send lower level representatives

  • Iran denounced the conference 

  • Palestinian officials have said they will not attend the Warsaw conference

  • U.S, proposals for peace between Israel and the Palestinians might be revealed

Dubai - Foreign ministers and senior officials from 60 nations are gathering on Wednesday in the Polish capital Warsaw, where the United States hopes to ratchet up pressure against Iran.

The United States is seeking to rally the world behind a new plan for the Middle East that seeks to apply maximum pressure on Iran and a strong backing of Israel, but it is winning little fresh support, as EU powers send low level representatives in protest against the heightened tensions with Tehran.

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.

Pompeo, who will be joined by US Vice President Mike Pence in Warsaw, played down the absence of European ministers at the event during a brief stop in the Slovak capital Bratislava on Tuesday, before he headed to Warsaw.

"Some countries are having their foreign ministers come. Other countries are not. That's their choice," he told a news conference.

"We think we will make real progress. We think there'll be dozens of nations there seriously working towards a better, more stable Middle East, and I'm hoping by the time we leave on Thursday we'll have achieved that," he added.

Toned down agenda

The absence of foreign ministers from major European powers, Germany and France, highlights festering tensions with the European Union over US President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions.

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.

Iran, which was not invited, has denounced the conference as a U.S.-led anti-Iran "circus."

While Lebanon said Monday it will not take part in a Middle East conference in Poland as it is widely seen as an effort to isolate Iran.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil made the announcement during a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who wason a two-day visit to Lebanon this week.

Iran enjoys wide influence in the country through the Hezbollah militant group, which along with allied parties holds a majority in parliament.

Zarif reiterated during his news conference with Bassil his country's readiness to offer Iranian military assistance to the U.S.-backed Lebanese army, adding that it is up to the Lebanese to choose what they want.

"We don't want to embarrass anyone in Lebanon through the cooperation with the Islamic Republic," he said, adding that there is no international law that bans Iran from cooperating with any country.

The countries that are sending top officials to Warsaw are pushing for a tough line on Iran including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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."

Middle East plan

The United States is also expected in Warsaw to offer hints of its proposals for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The conference will hear from White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is Trump's son in law, over plans by the United States for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

While Kushner is not likely to divulge too many details of the plan, it will be one of the first occasions he will publicly discuss the U.S. efforts.

The Palestinians have received a boost of support from Saudi Arabia ahead of with King Salman expressing his "permanent stand" in support of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, after meeting with Palestinian president Abbas in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Abbas adviser Majdi Khaldi says the Palestinian leader "affirmed the Palestinian position rejecting" Trump's anticipated "Deal of the Century" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian officials have said they will not attend the Warsaw conference because of Washington's decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

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, Russia counter event

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. "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 programme, 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.

Snap analysis from Layelle Saad, Middle East Editor

The significance of the Warsaw summit lies in the attendees.

It is the first diplomatic gathering to discuss regional security since the Madrid talks in the early 1990s under US President George H. Bush.

Another conference was held by his son, US President George W. Bush in 2007 in Annapolis Maryland but not much was achieved during that meeting.

Given the fact that the Palestinians are absent from the Warsaw summit—it seems unlikely that any breakthrough will be achieved. (They are boycotting over the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Occupied Jerusalem.)

Another first, will be US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will public discuss US efforts to achieve a so-called “historic” peace initiative in Palestine and Israel.

Kushner—one of the main architects of the secretive plan— however, is not expect to divulge much details.

Since Trump assumed the presidency, he has been touting a “historic” plan for Palestinian-Israeli peace but little is known about it as officials negotiating the details have not made any public statements.

However, it is widely believed the plan would be hugely biased in favour of Israel.

Palestinians have said that any deal that does not allow for a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel in 1967 and east Jerusalem as their capital—will not fly.