The international community has been monitoring the large coalition of governments that gathered from several regions to meet last week in Warsaw to discuss what was described as a summit to promote security and stability in the Middle East—but which was seen by many players as an attempt to form a front to pressure and isolate Iran’s regime as a way to thwart its ambition to develop its nuclear arms arsenal and its already significant missile force. Now that the summit is over—and the debates were colourful—the question becomes, what will happen next? What should the international community do? What should the Trump administration’s role be? To know where we are going, we have to know what road we are on—and to understand what road we are on, we must understand where we came from.
THE ROAD TO -WARSAW
Many factors led to the grand reunion in Poland’s capital. One factor was the necessity for the United States to take a strong second step after President Donald Trump levelled more biting sanctions on the Islamic Republic last fall. It became imperative for Washington to find new tools to pressure the Ayatollahs beyond the sanctions, as the European Union has been committed to finding ways to bypass the US measures against Tehran. A second factor was the increasing concern in the Gulf that Iran was advancing on all fronts, particularly in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Third was the shift in power in Washington, DC, after the Democrat opposition obtained a majority in the US House of Representatives, leading to the prospect of a strong push back against Donald Trump’s plans for Iran. Add to that, a Senate resolution to punish the Arab Coalition war in Yemen against the Iran-backed Houthis.
Many in the US government and in the private sector were looking for new strategies to move forward with the pressures against Iran. Among the ideas proposed (I had the privilege to be one of the authors of one such proposal), was to hold a Middle East centred summit in Warsaw to address many critical issues in the region, including terrorism, Iran threats, ISIS, and minorities. I had suggested the choice of Warsaw at a meeting with a Polish minister visiting Washington, DC, in the fall, arguing that the capital of a former member of the Soviet bloc would be symbolic for the peoples in the Middle East seeking freedom from authoritarianism. Weeks later, Poland and the United States announced the summit, surprising many observers.
CAMPS IN -WARSAW
However, the large coalition invited to participate—reaching close to 65 participating governments—represented multiple views on the goals and optics of the summit. While the Trump administration affirmed strongly via Secretary Mike Pompeo’s statements that the gathering was aimed at isolating Iran internationally and to force it to abandon its expansionist policies in the Middle East, other countries, particularly in Europe and including co-host Poland, underlined that the chief goal of the conference was to address all security challenges in the region, including Iran, Yemen, Syria, ISIS and other conflicts. The US and Israel, and to a certain extent the Gulf states, were dead set on taking action against Tehran for its military intervention in four countries in the Middle East. Other coalition countries, though recognising the missile threat coming from Iran, preferred the idea of using Warsaw’s summit as a platform from which to launch initiatives into the Middle East, set up a forum for future debates, and engage the NGO community for further action.
The most stubborn resistance against the Warsaw summit came from other European quarters in Brussels, where the European Commission and the foreign affairs committee opposed the idea of an international coalition to act against Iran’s policies. Rather, the EU hastened its steps to establish a mechanism to provide a secure channel of trade with Tehran, bypassing US sanctions. Brussels warned Poland that further rapprochement with the US on Iran could affect European assistance to Warsaw. The Polish government, under pressure from both Brussels and Washington is indeed walking a tight rope, but they remain determined to lock arms with the Trump administration.
EUROPEAN AND -INTERNATIONAL SPLITS
While most of Western Europe, including Germany and France, continue to adhere to the JCPOA and abstain from backing US measures against the Iran regime, Eastern and Ccentral Europe differ in some ways. In addition to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, known as the “Visigrad countries,” are closer to the US position in general—as a counter reaction to Brussels’ injunctions to accept a quota of refugees coming from the Middle East and Northern Africa. Furthermore, the Baltic States, fearing Russian moves, strategically depend on the United States for defence. In Latin America and Africa, governments are divided between standing with the US and standing with Russia and China, thus indirectly with Iran. One difference this year is that with Bolsonaro’s election, Brazil has shifted towards the US. Last, in the Middle East divisions are clear: the Arab coalition stands firmly against Iran, and the latter is backed by its proxies in the region, while Turkey and Qatar both flirt with Tehran.
Within the beltway, both parties are united on sanctions against Tehran, but a far-left slice of the Democratic Party opposes them, while a small group of conservatives is opposed to a clash with the Ayatollahs and Assad. Both dissenting groups represent the impact of the Iran lobby.
In these post Warsaw times, I recommend integrating the sanctions system within a more comprehensive strategy to bring change to Iran’s behaviour. Sanctions alone will take time and aren’t guaranteed. We should engage the internal opposition inside Iran and identify a new leadership for the opposition, comparable to Juan Guaido in Venezuela—and include a wider number of countries within the Warsaw process, including Indonesia, Brazil and India, to ensure a universal approach to the crisis.
The international community—and the Trump administration—should also capitalise on the summit’s momentum to address the other crises involving Iran—in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon—to use them as leverage to produce the change needed in Teheran and the entire Middle East for regional peace and security.
Dr Walid Phares is the Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group (TAG) and a former foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump.