Netanyahu to meet Pence, Pompeo at Polish Middle East summit

Various aspects of Iranian aggression to be the ‘first issue on the agenda,’ PM says about Warsaw conference starting Wednesday

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US Vice President Mike Pence (left) is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90
US Vice President Mike Pence (left) is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a Middle East conference in Warsaw later this week.

“The first issue on the agenda is Iran — how to continue preventing it from entrenching in Syria, how to thwart its aggression in the region and, above all, how to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said Sunday in his weekly cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu is set to take off for the Polish capital on Tuesday to address the so-called “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East,” held jointly by Poland and the US on February 13-14.

The prime minister is set to meet with other world leaders as well, he said Sunday, but would not provide more details about his plans.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia on January 1, 2019 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Efforts to thwart Iran’s aggression in the region, including its efforts to entrench itself militarily, its recent attempts to upgrade its ballistic missile arsenal and its nuclear ambitions are expected to take center stage at the summit, even though organizers said the conference’s objective is not to bash Iran.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be another topic discussed in Warsaw, although senior Palestinian officials said last week they would boycott the event.

“Regarding statements that we have been invited, we can say that only today there was some contact from the Polish side,” Palestine Liberation Organization secretary-general Saeb Erekat wrote on Twitter Friday.

“Our position remains clear: We are not going to attend this conference and reiterate that we have not mandated anyone to talk on behalf of #Palestine,” he added.

Erekat’s statement came after a White House official told reporters the Palestinians had been invited to the conference.

“The Warsaw Conference is an attempt at bypassing the Arab Peace Initiative and destroying the Palestinian National project,” said Erekat, referring to a Saudi proposal to extend Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a pullout to the pre-1967 armistice lines and a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

In this photo from July 17, 2018, Palestinian protesters hold portraits of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and US President Donald Trump during a rally in support of the Fatah party in the West Bank city of Nablus. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

His statement came a day after the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry called the conference an “American conspiracy.”

The PA has boycotted the American administration since President Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move it said meant the US could no longer serve as a mediator in peace talks.

Ties between the sides have continued to fray since then, with the US moving to end aid it provides to Palestinians and cut funding to PA President Mahmoud Abbas over his refusal to enter negotiations and Ramallah’s payments to terror convicts and their families.

According to a US official, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner will discuss the White House’s peace efforts during the conference and take questions from the audience.

“We would very much welcome the Palestinian Authority’s perspectives during the discussion, but I do want to emphasize this is not a negotiation but a discussion, and we look forward to fostering a constructive conversation in Warsaw,” the official was quoted saying by Reuters.

In this Thursday, June 21, 2018 photo, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, center, meets with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, second left, and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt on the latest stop in a regional tour to discuss a blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, in Cairo, Egypt. (MENA via AP)

Kushner will be accompanied in Warsaw by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Along with US envoy on Iran Brian Hook and other administration officials, the two are headed to the Middle East later this month to brief diplomats in at least five countries on the economic section of the US peace proposal.

Stops are confirmed in Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Other stops could be added to the trip, according to a White House official.

The US peace plan reportedly includes an economic development proposal for Palestinians that foresees major infrastructure and industrial work, particularly in Gaza. For the plan to succeed or even pass the starting gate, it will need at least initial buy-in from both Israel and the Palestinians as well as from the Gulf Arab states, which officials say will be asked to substantially bankroll the economic portion.

A senior US official told The Times of Israel this week that a date for the peace plan’s rollout has not yet been decided and there are “numerous considerations” that may play a role and push its release back to mid-May at the earliest. These include the Israeli elections (April 9) and subsequent coalition building process, the Passover holiday (April 19-26), Ramadan (May 5-June 4), and Israeli Memorial and Independence Days (May 7-9).

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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