WARSAW, Poland — The international Middle East conference opening on Wednesday evening will focus on the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other security-related regional matters, its organizers said, apparently contradicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had said the event would focus on Iran.
“We will discuss violent instability in Syria and Yemen, as well as efforts to achieve a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz wrote in a joint op-ed published Wednesday morning on CNN’s website.
“Further sessions will feature discussions on missile proliferation, energy security, emerging cyber-based threats, counterterrorism, and humanitarian aid. Our broad goal is to hear every nation’s unscripted, candid ideas for how to make progress on these issues, and more,” they wrote.
Pompeo and Czaputowicz only mentioned Iran indirectly, carefully avoiding the impression that the summit’s focus is an effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.
“We expect each nation to express opinions that reflect its own interests. Disagreements in one area should not prohibit unity in others,” they wrote. “In the past, for example, our two nations have taken distinct positions on the Iran nuclear deal. Despite these strong differences of opinion, the US-Poland relationship remains strong.”
The US and Poland are the co-organizers of the so-called Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.
Netanyahu, who arrived in Warsaw early Wednesday morning, had said that the conference will not focus on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, since Pompeo and US Vice President Mike Pence — who will also attend the summit — do not deal with the administration’s much-anticipated peace proposal.
Rather, Netanyahu told reporters Tuesday evening, the conference will have a clear emphasis on efforts to thwart Iranian aggression.
“This is a very important international conference in Warsaw. The focus is Iran. This brings together Israel, the US, and countries in and beyond the region,” he said.
“I think that the holding of this conference in which Israel, the US, various countries around the world and from the region sit down in one place, in one hall and discuss one topic which, in my opinion, is the most important for our national security, is a very important achievement,” he continued.
Netanyahu is set to meet Pompeo later on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters before boarding a Boeing 777 to Warsaw, the prime minister slammed European countries for continuing to work with Iran.
“I like to ask Europe what they think they’re doing. Iran is sending terrorists to European capitals. And at the same time, some Western European governments are helping Iran — it’s mind-boggling,” he said.
“It’s not the first time we’ve seen this folly in certain parts of Europe,” he added, in apparent reference to European powers pursuing an appeasement policy with Nazi Germany in 1938.
Netanyahu will reportedly be looking to use the summit, to be attended by several high-ranking officials from Muslim countries in the region, to help expand ties with the Arab world.
The summit appears to be the first time an Israeli leader and senior Arab officials will attend an international conference centered on the Middle East since the Madrid peace conference in 1991, which set the stage for the landmark Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
No meetings with top Arab officials have been scheduled, despite efforts to set one up, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, UAE, Kuwait and Morocco are all sending foreign ministers, according to Poland.
Netanyahu and the Arab officials will share a stage during a group photo scheduled for meeting participants. Netanyahu’s last face-to-face meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took place during a similar group photo at the 2015 Paris climate talks.
This time, however, Abbas will not attend, and Palestinians have been heavily critical of the conference.
The event will deal with “the whole region and the challenges it is facing, be it civil wars, terrorism, energy or cybersecurity,” Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski told The Times of Israel this week.
“So the nature of the upcoming conference is, in our view, definitely not anti-Iranian.”
The Iranian leadership, however, slammed the event as an attempt to isolate them, and threatened Poland with consequences.
Reminder to host/participants of anti-Iran conference: those who attended last US anti-Iran show are either dead, disgraced, or marginalized. And Iran is stronger than ever.
Polish Govt can't wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus. pic.twitter.com/iOOvhgtUsL
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 11, 2019
Palestinians officials, meanwhile, have described the meeting as an effort by the US to advance its anti-Palestinian positions.
“To be clear: Palestine has not mandated anyone to speak on its behalf. Despite US efforts to promote normalization of diplomatic relations between Arab states and Israel, no changes in the Arab Peace Initiative will be accepted,” Palestine Liberation Organization secretary-general Saeb Erekat wrote in a syndicated op-ed published Tuesday.
“Full normalization of ties with Israel will take place only after a final-status agreement is achieved and Israel ends its control of all Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Syria’s Golan Heights and Palestine’s East Jerusalem.”
“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.
His statement came a day after the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry called the conference an “American conspiracy.”
A White House official last week told reporters the Palestinians had been invited to the conference.
The PA has boycotted the US 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 Abbas over his refusal to enter negotiations and Ramallah’s payments to terror convicts and their families.
On Wednesday afternoon, Netanyahu will attend a welcoming ceremony for heads of delegations at Warsaw’s historic Royal Castle.
On Thursday morning, Czaputowicz and Pompeo will open the conference, which will take place at capital’s PGE Narodowy Stadium.
Netanyahu’s office said he, too, will address the summit’s opening session, though his name does not appear on the program issued by the Polish Foreign Ministry.
After a group photo of foreign dignitaries, the heads of delegation will have a working lunch, which will be addressed by Pence and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
After lunch, Netanyahu and Pence will head to the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes and lay a wreath there. The two leaders will then walk together to POLIN — Museum of the History of Polish Jews, where they will conduct a working meeting.
On Thursday evening, the prime minister’s delegation is set to return to Israel.
Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.