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EU officials snub US anti-Iran conference

Image of US President Donald Trump [REUTERS/Lucas Jackson]
Image of US President Donald Trump [REUTERS/Lucas Jackson]

A major international conference hosted by the US to build an anti-Iran coalition has been snubbed by senior figures in Europe, signalling a rift between US President Donald Trump and his traditional allies over the Middle East.

The list of US officials expected to attend the two-day conference – beginning tomorrow in Polish capital Warsaw – looks like the “Who’s Who” of Washington. US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner are all expected to speak. However, most of their European counterparts are registered as no-show, interpreted by many as a slap in the face for the pro-Israeli US coalition.

The White House was hoping to rally the world behind its vision for the Middle East, which includes maximum pressure on Iran and strong backing of Israel. Announcing the meeting last month, Pompeo said that foreign ministers from around the world would flock to Poland to counter the “destabilising influence” of Iran in the Middle East.

Pompeo expected the conference to be a show of global unity, his intention being to create an anti-Iran coalition that consolidated the impression that the world had lined up behind Trump’s hard-line approach to the Islamic Republic and endorsed his policy of backing right-wing rejectionists in Israel.

Even though the meeting takes place in the European Union (EU), major European powers are sending only 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, AFP reported.

Embarrassingly for the US, other notable absentees include EU Foreign Folicy Chief Federica Mogherini, who claimed she had prior commitments. Pompeo instead is expected to have breakfast with her in Brussels, Belgium on his way home to the US.

READ: EU starts scheme to bypass US sanctions on Iran

Co-host Poland has also stressed that it still supports the EU in backing the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by former US president Barack Obama to ease sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme. Trump broke with his European allies in tearing up the deal; a stance that was vigorously called for by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Iran was not invited to Warsaw and is reported to have summoned the Polish ambassador in protest. However, in what has been described as a show of diplomatic clout, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will travel during the US-led conference to Russia, which also declined to attend the event in Warsaw.

Analysts have interpreted the Warsaw conference as a desperate US attempt expands its anti-Iran coalition beyond intransigent hawks in Israel and a couple of Gulf leaders.

Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group think tank, was quoted as saying: “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.”

READ: Gulf Arab allies jubilant at US withdrawal from Iran deal

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