The text was updated on 24 January 2019.
In a joint Polish-American statement of 11 January 2019 the two governments have announced a Ministerial Conference to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East to be held in Warsaw on 13–14 February. The forthcoming meeting is to innitiate a dialogue about a new security architecture for the Middle East.
What are the U.S. motivations?
The U.S. rationale is twofold. First, the Trump administration wants to prove it is able to arrive at a deal with Iran that it claims would be better attuned to U.S. interests than the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA). When announcing the withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, the Trump administration declared it would seek a broader deal, one that would address regional security matters in the Middle East more broadly. The conference is thus intended to exert diplomatic pressure on Iran and persuade it to re-open talks. Second, the U.S. is looking for conditions to limit American military engagement in the region. The meeting in Warsaw is meant to reassure U.S. allies that it has a strategy for ensuring security in the region while making sure that U.S. strategic competitors—China and Russia—do not fill the void created by lowering the American profile in the Middle East.
What is Poland’s role?
The decision to hold the inaugural ministerial meeting in Warsaw is an indication that the U.S. is well aware of the impasse in the transatlantic dialogue over the Middle East, created by the U.S. decision to withdraw from JCPOA. Poland may attempt to overcome this impasse by persuading its European partners to attend the conference. The joint Polish-U.S. statement about the Warsaw ministerial meeting does not make explicit reference to Iran as the primary source of destabilisation in the Middle East, even though such a stance is no doubt dominant in the Trump administration. It could be an indication that Poland will seek to avoid turning the Warsaw conference into an anti-Iran alliance.
Is the conference needed?
There is neither a multilateral security initiative in the Middle East, nor any other form of dialogue about regional problems. The conflicts between Israel, Saudi Arabia and their partners on the one hand and Iran on the other obstructs such initiatives. It seems, however, that a dialogue conducted in an incremental manner—first among selected states and later expanded under the UN aegis—could delineate the conditions for a regional security architecture and gradually build trust among the states in conflict. In the long term, the dialogue could become institutionalised in the form of a Middle Eastern security system. Moreover, direct U.S.-Iran talks could also start on the margins of a process initiated in Warsaw.
Under what conditions could this initiative be successful?
First, the success of the initiative depends on its inclusiveness, both regionally and globally. Eventually, Iran has to be part of the process since the Middle East security architecture is unthinkable without it. Likewise, the conference should include other global actors with interests in the Middle East, such as the EU and its Member States, China, Russia, and India. Second, the conference’s success rests on the appropriate selection of topics for dialogue. The future of Iran’s nuclear programme—which is a thorn in transatlantic relations—cannot be omitted but it should include a broader range of issues. These include the non-proliferation of ballistic technologies, energy and cyber security, and humanitarian problems—the current number of refugees and other people of concern in the Middle East is almost 17 million. The process initiated in Warsaw should also lead to greater economic cooperation in the Middle East.