Middle East Peace Conference Strains Relations Between Iran and Poland

By Natasha Phillips 

24 Jan – Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told Polish media outlet Rzeczpospolita Monday that Iran has not been invited to its Middle East Peace and Security Conference because the language Tehran uses is “difficult to accept.” Czaputowicz said that Tehran had begun to use similar language about Poland and that the Islamic Republic’s involvement would disrupt talks.

Meanwhile, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Maciej Przemysław Lang held a meeting with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi after Iranian officials expressed unhappiness over the country’s decision to co-host the conference with the United States. Iranian ministers are calling the conference an ‘anti-Iran’ summit.  

The meeting between the two officials took place in Tehran ahead of the conference which is being co-hosted by Poland and the U.S. next month. Tensions between the United States and Iran are at an all-time high after the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal last year.

Maciej Przemysław Lang Abbas Araqchi during the meeting in Tehran. Source: Kayhan London

At the meeting the ministers discussed the peace and security conference, including potential topics on the agenda and motives for launching the conference. The event is set to take place from 13-14 February in Warsaw, Poland’s capital city. 

On 22 January, a day after the Deputy Ministers’ meeting, Polish independent news outlet Notes From Poland said that several office buildings in Poland had received bomb threats from supporters of the Iranian regime. Employees at an office block in Spokojna were evacuated after a message about a bomb in the building was left in a mailbox. The message was received by employees at around 9.37am and read: “We put a bomb and a tank with phosgene propellant gas in the building. The bomb is designed to kill as many people as possible. The detonation will take place immediately after receiving this message. You have a few seconds to say goodbye to your family. It is a punishment for committing treason against brothers from the Islamic Republic of Iran. You will die like Jewish dogs.“ Police searched the offices but did not find any explosives. At least two offices were affected by the bomb threat, and remain closed until Monday. No-one has come forward to claim responsibility for the bomb threats. 

A message about a bomb has been sent to more than 10 governmental organizations.
Employees at an office block in Spokojna leave the building. Source: Kayhan London

Both Iran and the U.S. have strong bilateral and diplomatic relations with Poland. However, the conference’s announcement has stoked tension between Iran and Poland. Shortly after the conference was confirmed, Iran canceled its Polish Film Festival and stopped issuing tourist visas to Poles in protest over the summit. 

Lang is currently visiting Iran as the head of a delegation which has been set up to ease negotiations between Tehran and Warsaw after Iranian officials expressed concerns about the conference. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the event a ‘desperate anti-Iran circus’ at the beginning of the month telling his followers on Twitter, “Reminder to host/participants of anti-Iran conference: those who attended last US anti-Iran show are dead, disgraced, or marginalized. And Iran is stronger than ever.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has launched the Middle East Peace and Security Conference in conjunction with his Iran Pressure Campaign which includes the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions and the creation of a Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA). U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) last week in a statement that Iran’s government was the single greatest threat to regional stability and confirmed that Iranian officials’ activities would feature on the conference’s agenda. 

Poland's President Andrzej Duda (L) speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump, September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Addressing Minister Lang at the meeting Monday, Araqchi told Lang and six other attendees that Tehran considered the conference to be a hostile measure by the United States and that the Warsaw government’s reasons for co-hosting the anti-Iran conference were unacceptable. The minister said that Iran would not allow any coalition against its interests and criticized the conference’s agenda, which does not include a discussion on the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israeli forces or the nuclear deal. Full details of the agenda for the event have not yet been released. 

Responding to Araqchi’s remarks, Lang re-affirmed Poland’s support for the nuclear deal. He told Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister that the conference would not be targeting Iran, and that Poland would not sanction any hostile actions against Iran during the conference. The minister went on to say that the conference’s main objective was to help solve regional problems.

According to an earlier report by France 24, prior to Lang’s visit, Iran’s Foreign Ministry protested against the conference to Poland’s chargé d’affaires in Tehran, Wojciech Unolt, asking the diplomat to explain Warsaw’s reasons for co-hosting the event, and urging Poland not to take part. 

Kayhan London reported Tuesday that the Iranian government had reacted to the conference’s launch by downplaying the event through state-run media channels and publishing views by experts suggesting that the event had already failed. University professors and analysts assisting the government have also said that the IRGC, and Hezbollah which is backed by the Iranian government, are worried about the outcome of the conference. 

Poland’s decision to co-host the event has caused speculation among experts who believe the move stems from the country’s desire to build up its defenses against Russia. 

Russia has responded to news of the summit by saying that its delegates will not be attending, labelling the conference counter-productive because of its focus on opposing Iran. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the UN Security Council that the Middle East Peace and Security conference would fail to bring about peace in the region.

European Union countries may not attend the conference either after EU diplomats raised questions about the event’s agenda. A representative for the EU said that the bloc’s Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini would not be attending the event as Mogherini had prior commitments. However the EU’s presence at the conference is still unclear as the issue has not yet been discussed formally by European Union ministers. 

The U.S. responded to concerns over the conference Tuesday while addressing the U.N. Security Council. Jonathan Cohen, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. told the Council that the event would not focus on Iran or be used as a “venue to demonize or attack Iran,” or to re-open negotiations on the nuclear deal.