Europe and the US clash over the Middle East in Warsaw

  • Kateřina Velíšková
  • 18.2.2019 07:02

Last week’s Warsaw Middle East conference highlighted the competing visions on the Middle East presented by the US and the EU. While the American VP Pence sought to rally support against Iran and the Nuclear Deal, European politicians and diplomats mainly stayed away, maintaining their economic and diplomatic relations with their Iranian counterparts. However, some noted that because the conference took place in Warsaw, the European consensus on the Middle East might in fact be eroding.

The past days have seen three important events that shed light on the current political and security challenges in the Middle East and the growing divisions between the US and the EU over the best way to address them. First, the US organised a conference in Warsaw that was widely seen as a tool for further isolating Iran. The German Chancellor then fiercely disputed such policy during the annual security conference in Munich and Iranian leaders themselves met with Russia and Turkey in an effort to counterbalance the US-organised event.

One of the most important giveaways as to the overall message of the Warsaw conference was its attendance. It is true that over 60 countries were present. However, Iranian representatives were not invited, Russia declined to participate and the Chinese, Yemeni Houthis and Palestinians were also not present. On top of that, France and Germany refused to send their top level diplomats and the EU itself was represented only by lower-ranking staff.

 

More than anything else, the event highlighted the new axis of alliance among the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel

 

Even though the official goal of the conference was finding new strategies to combat terrorism and other regional threats, the key issue lied elsewhere. More than anything else, the event highlighted the new axis of alliance among the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel (which was also present and very conscious of just how significant that was). In Warsaw, these three key players tried to increase the ranks of those who see Iran as the crucial adversary in the Middle East and beyond.

Notably, the EU is on a significantly different course. Germany, France and the UK have recently introduced a new financial tool designed to help EU-Iran trade and economic cooperation while avoiding US sanctions. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at this weekend’s security conference in Munich, also expressed strong support for the Iran Nuclear Deal and further criticised the US planned withdrawal from Syria, which will in her eyes be the more consequential path to strengthening Iran’s foothold in the region.

 

One could view this gathering on Middle Eastern security as a way to gently erode the European consensus on the region, whether it’s on the Iran Nuclear Deal or the Middle East Peace Process



However, some commentators noticed one more important element of the conference: its location. By placing the event in the Eurosceptic Warsaw, the US might be not so subtly pushing for the formation of more bipartisan alliances with some of the more keen European nations rather than with the EU as a whole. In this way, one could view this gathering on Middle Eastern security as a way to gently erode the European consensus on the region, whether it’s on the Iran Nuclear Deal or the Middle East Peace Process.

It seems that the US and EU paths in the Middle East are diverging and this course will not be reversed easily The differences already include the approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran, but the general reading of the region and overall goals should also be counted. The EU is not about to start forming a new alliance similar to the US-SA-Israel axis, but its focus on multilateralism and inclusive cooperation might turn out to be much more effective in the long run. The result will depend on whether the EU manages to stay united on these issues.

About author: Kateřina Velíšková

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