A US effort to build pressure against Iran’s influence in the Middle East is facing a setback after ministers from several European Union members opted out of the summit organised by Washington in Poland.
The meeting – due to take place in Warsaw on February 13-14 – will focus on stability and security in the Middle East and on countering Iran’s “destabilising influence” in the region.
But since US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcement during his tour of the Middle East, a number of EU representatives have said they will skip the summit, co-hosted by Poland and the US.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she will not take part in what her officials privately describe as an anti-Iran conference, according to Iranian and US media reports.
France is also unlikely to send its foreign minister, according to European diplomats. Luxembourg’s foreign minister said he would miss the event because of a prior arrangement. The UK and Germany have not yet taken any official positions.
The European Union is at loggerheads with the US over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as it seeks to retain economic ties with Tehran despite renewed US sanctions.
Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and to reimpose sanctions –including on Iran’s oil sector – is part of a proclaimed effort by Washington to curb Tehran’s military presence in the Middle East, which the US accuses of causes tensions and promoting terrorism.
Iranian officials have denounced Poland for hosting a meeting “hostile to Iran” and warned that Tehran could reciprocate. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday criticised Poland for hosting the meeting by writing on Twitter: “Polish Govt can’t wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus.”
Mr Zarif’s comments made reference to Iran’s role in hosting over 100,000 Polish refugees during the Second World War.
An official at the ministry of culture said that plans to screen a Polish Film Week in Iran would be cancelled if the summit plans will go ahead.
Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said the summit was being held because US sanctions had failed to bring Iran to its knees.
Iran’s national news agency IRNA reported that Iran expressed its discontent to Poland’s Chargé d’Affaires Wojciech Unolt, demanding that Warsaw not go along with the “hostile move”.
A statement quoting an unnamed Iranian said that Iran will resort to unspecified “counter-action” toward Poland should the summit go ahead.
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz rejected Iranian criticism and said he hoped the conference will provide a new platform for international dialogue and allow the US and European Union to find common ground on Iran.
Poland supports the EU efforts to preserve its nuclear agreement with Iran, but Mr Czaputowicz said the deal alone will not prevent Iran from “destabilising” the region.
The summit was announced by Mr Pompeo during a Middle Eastern tour earlier this month. He said the objectives include changing the “behaviour” of Iran, which Washington accuses of destabilising the region.
“We will gather around a number of different topics ... fighting ISIS is part of that ... and address how we can get the Islamic Republic of Iran to behave like a normal nation,” Mr Pompeo told reporters.
Tehran denies the accusations and says US military presence is to blame for tensions in the Middle East.