Representatives of more than 60 countries gathered in Warsaw last week in an attempt to find common ground on Iran. The US, in particular made no bones about its wish to galvanise a concerted international front to deal with Iran’s flouting of its treaty obligations and its aggressive regional foreign policy.
While there seems to be a general accord amongst the Gulf States and the US, European countries proved reluctant to sign up to the US plans. Indeed, European disdain for US strategy was obvious as none of the heads of state of three most powerful European nations (France, Britain and Germany) attended. This left senior the US figures, Pompeo and Pence to treat with minor officials. In terms of diplomacy this was unfortunate and embarrassing.
The reasons for European diffidence are complex. The populist upsurge has affected all Europeans countries in a profound fashion. Macron, May and Merkel are absorbed by domestic unrest and political challenges. There is a sense of impending crisis in the EU. Furthermore, in the wake of president Trump’s lukewarm attitude to the western alliance, European countries are increasingly looking to forging an independent foreign policy. Trump’s recent unilateral decision to withdraw US forces from Syria was undertaken without consulting US partners such as France and Britain. Moreover, the Europeans just do not believe Trump’s assertion that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. These issues all shaped the stance taken by America’s key European allies towards the Warsaw conference. Trust between members of the western alliance has been strained.
Yet the conference did produce some results and furtherance of US aims. For the first time Israel and the Gulf States have coalesced around the US in what Netanyahu referred to as a new regional axis. This is a major development and illustrates that states with differing and at times conflicting agendas can come together in the spirit of cooperation in order to tackle the regional threats posed by Iran. And there is no doubt that Iran is continuing to pursue an expansionist policy. Tehran’s militias and regular forces prop up the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad. The power of Iran’s proxy militias is increasing, rather than receding, in Iraq. The guns may have fallen silent in Yemen but Iran funds, arms and trains the Houthi rebels.
When countries such as Saudi and Israel can come together in mutual acknowledgement of the threat posed by Iran just serves to illustrate the parlous state of US/European relations. Since 1945 the western alliance has held firm in espousing common values of mutual defence and the promotion of liberal democracy. However, even Vice President Mike Pence’s call that ‘freedom loving nations’ should ‘stand against Iranian evil’ seem to have fallen on deaf ears amongst the European powers. Furthermore, the EU shows no sign of abandoning its scheme to facilitate trade with Iran and so circumvent US sanctions.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the posturing between US and its old allies there is a vital need for consensus, with regard to Iran. Different styles of leadership and domestic agendas need to be disregarded in the case of the approach towards Iran. The threat posed by the Islamic Republic increases incrementally and, indeed, thrives in the vacuum of disarray among the US and the Europeans. Iranian terror cells appear to be embedded in many European states. Iran’s aggression and strategic aim to achieve hegemony in Iraq and a corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean could very well trigger a war in the Middle East that would dwarf the bloody tragedies of recent conflicts. Therefore it is incumbent for all parties on either side of the Atlantic to find a way forward.