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Trump Administration Hopes Mideast Confab Will Keep Iran Atop Global Agenda

By Charles Bybelezer | The Media Line

February 11, 2019

US President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, on May 8, 2018. (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner expected to tease Israeli-Palestinian peace plan

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet this week with United States Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the sidelines of a summit in Poland primarily focusing on Iran. Ministers from nearly 80 countries will gather at the American-sponsored conference in Warsaw to “promote a future of peace and security” in the Middle East.

“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 [Tehran] from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said after confirming his attendance at the February 13-14 event.

The comments came as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday vowed to expand his country’s military capabilities, including its ballistic missile program, and as Tehran announced it is preparing to greatly expand technical infrastructure for enriching uranium.

“It is unlikely we will learn anything new about the Iranian threat at the summit and it is expected that Israel and Sunni Arab countries will play a central role,” Avi Melamed, Salisbury Fellow of Intelligence and Middle East Affairs at the Washington-based Eisenhower Institute, explained to The Media Line. “That Trump chose Poland to host the event also sends a significant but predictable message to Russia,” which has been waging war since 2014 in another former Soviet satellite—the Ukraine—and re-emerged as a global power-broker after intervening militarily in Syria.

“What is unique, then, is that the U.S. and Middle East countries are targeting the European Union, effectively calling on the bloc to change its schizophrenic policy on Iran,” Melamed said.

Indeed, the decision to hold the confab in Eastern Europe is notable as the region increasingly is dominated by right-wing populist governments more amenable to President Trump’s policies. They are, as a corollary, often at odds with officials in the likes of France, Britain and Germany, parties to the 2015 nuclear deal from which Washington withdrew last May. These Western European countries are in the process of finalizing a so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to allow continued non-dollar trade with Tehran, thereby circumventing American sanctions.

“The summit is further evidence the Trump administration is trying to get the EU to develop a singular foreign policy on Iran more in line with its own,” Nick Witney, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Media Line. “There will not be an instantaneous impact on Brussels’ approach; rather, it is obviously meant to encourage states that are uncomfortable with the EU’s line to promote issues Washington has raised.

“The EU is at the moment attempting to assert itself through [initiatives like the SVP], so the matter will remain a bone of transatlantic contention for years to come,” he said.

Apart from Iran, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is expected to reveal in the Polish capital elements of a two-years-in-the-making Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. This, ahead of a planned tour of Arab nations later this month geared towards shoring up support before the proposal’s anticipated release following Israel’s April 9 elections.

The Palestinian Authority nevertheless is not sending representatives to the event, thereby extending its boycott of the American administration imposed following the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

This comes on backdrop of the Israeli government’s apparent decision to begin implementing the so-called Deduction Law, passed by parliament in mid-2018, by withholding taxes and tariffs collected on behalf of and distributed to Ramallah equal to the estimated $300 million the PA pays annually to terrorists and their families in accordance with its controversial “pay-for-slay” policy.

“There was no official contact between the PA and the Americans ahead of the [Poland] summit about the peace proposal,” a senior Palestinian source told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “The U.S. administration wants to study reactions and then see where we stand about potential negotiations,” he said Tuesday at a PA-organized event in Nablus, thus seemingly leaving the door open for re-engagement.

Nevertheless, the general consensus among analysts is that frayed Israeli-Palestinian relations, coupled with Ramallah’s shunning of Washington—which likewise has cut-off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the PA—bodes poorly for jump-starting talks.

Accordingly, while the summit might serve to keep Iran atop the international community’s agenda and act as a trial balloon for breathing new life into the moribund peace process, Washington is liable to be disappointed, albeit perhaps unsurprisingly, by the absence of tangible outcomes.

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