Amid cool response, US says Warsaw conference not aimed at Iran

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo speaks to members of the media after a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York, US, on Jan 26, 2019.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo speaks to members of the media after a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York, US, on Jan 26, 2019.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US-Polish conference next month on the Middle East is not aimed at Iran, a US official said on Monday (Jan 28), after key players baulked at attending.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to head to Warsaw for the Feb 13-14 "Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East", which he earlier said would look at "making sure Iran is not a destabilising influence".

But the conference has drawn few concrete RSVPs amid unease over the hard US line on Iran, with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini saying she had previous commitments even though the event is taking place in the European Union.

A senior US official, previewing the conference to reporters, said that Iran would not be a specific agenda item.

"It's important to underscore that this is not an anti-Iran meeting or coalition-building exercise," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"From the start, this ministerial has been focused on exploring a range of issues important to the region's security and prosperity," he said.

He said Mr Pompeo "will certainly discuss concerns regarding Iran's destructive policies in the region", but said this was because "it's difficult to talk about the region's challenges without referencing Iran".

The official said that the conference would discuss the crises in Syria and Yemen as well as missile proliferation, cyber issues, human rights and refugees, with working groups then tasked with following up.

The conference, which Mr Pompeo said will draw ministers from around the world, comes almost exactly as Iran marks 40 years since its Islamic revolution and after the United States reimposed sweeping sanctions on the country.

Iran summoned a Polish diplomat to protest the conference, which it called a hostile act.

A Polish official said that, despite serving as co-host, that Poland still supports an international agreement on Iran's nuclear programme, from which President Donald Trump withdrew.

Russia has also said it will not attend the conference because of its "one-country" focus and failure to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.