European Union countries on Friday appeared ready to snub an international conference on the Middle East in Poland next month over concerns it is part of a US drive to ramp up pressure on Iran.
EU diplomats raised questions about the real agenda of the February 13-14 conference, saying that it was organized at very short notice and noting that Iran does not appear to be invited. An EU official said the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has other commitments and will not attend.
The diplomats and officials were briefing reporters on condition of anonymity because the issue has not yet been discussed formally among ministers.
The EU has been battling to keep alive an international agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions since the US abandoned the pact last year.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the international conference on Iran and the Middle East last Friday.
He made the announcement in an interview during a regional tour aimed at mollifying US allies after President Donald Trump’s shock decision to withdraw all American troops from Syria, which sparked concerns that Iran’s influence could grow.
“We’ll bring together dozens of countries from all around the world,” Pompeo told the Fox News network.
They will “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly been invited to participate.
Iran has fumed over the conference, and earlier this week summoned a Polish envoy to the country in protest.
The official IRNA news agency reported on Sunday that Iran had conveyed its protest message to Poland’s Chargé d’Affaires Wojciech Unolt, demanding that Warsaw not go along with the “hostile move” by the United States against Tehran.
The statement quoted an unnamed Iranian official as saying that if the summit goes ahead, Iran will resort to unspecified “counter-action” toward Poland.
IRNA said “Poland’s charge d’affaires provided explanations about the conference.”
Responding to Pompeo’s announcement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last Friday on Twitter that the conference would bring shame on the Polish government and invoked how during World War II Iran saved Polish lives.
Iran hosted tens of thousands of Polish war refugees who were brought to the country after surviving work camps in the Soviet Union and before they migrated to then-emerging Israel, New Zealand and some African countries. Scores stayed on after the war, choosing to reside in Iran.
Zarif tweeted: “Polish Govt can’t wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus.”
Tehran and Warsaw have had good relations. The balance of trade between the two nations was $230 million in 2017, up from 80 million in 2015 when Iran and world powers agreed to a landmark nuclear deal that curbed Tehran’s nuclear program in return for lifting harsh economic sanctions.
On Saturday, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said he hoped the conference will provide a new platform for international dialogue and allow the US and European Union to find a closer position on Iran.
Czaputowicz said Poland supported the EU’s efforts to preserve its nuclear agreement with Iran, but warned the deal alone would not keep Iran from “destabilizing” the region.
Since withdrawing from the nuclear deal last year, the Trump administration has steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran and routinely accuses the nation of being the most destabilizing influence in the region. It has vowed to increase the pressure until Iran halts what US officials describe as its “malign activities” throughout the Mideast and elsewhere, including support for rebels in Yemen, anti-Israel groups, and Syrian President Bashar Assad.