0421 GMT April 09, 2020
The conference is now being described as a wider brainstorming session about the Middle East.
In announcing the summit earlier this month, the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo had explicitly said the summit’s purpose was to focus on Iran’s influence and terrorism in the region.
But the joint official announcement of the summit did not mention Iran, instead highlighting issues such as “terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region,” theguardian.com reported on Wednesday.
The change of emphasis follows signs that many European countries, including the EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, will avoid the two-day event on 12 and 13 February, and instead head to the Munich security forum later in the week.
The US has been trying to persuade the EU to drop its support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and has been using the threat of US secondary sanctions to press EU firms not to trade with Iran.
The UK is one of the countries most conflicted about attending the Polish conference since the UK is traditionally close to both Poland and the US, but has stood by the Iran nuclear deal.
The broadening of the agenda may be designed to make it easier for the UK to attend. Jonathan Cohen, US representative at the UN, described the scope of the discussion as “much broader than any one country or set of issues”. He said it will be a “global brainstorming session” and stressed that it was “not the venue to demonize or attack Iran.”
Issues such as the humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen, missile development and cyber security will be discussed, Cohen told the UN Security Council.
The Polish envoy to the UN, Joanna Wronecka, also said the ministerial conference in Warsaw would bring “added value to the efforts to peace in the Middle East by creating a positive vision to the region”. She said 70 countries all over the world had been invited but stressed the summit would address “a range of horizontal issues that touch on the whole region. We do not intend to focus on particular countries during the conference”.
Poland’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Maciej Lang travelled to Iran to reassure Tehran this week, and Poland on Wednesday said it may yet add Iran to the invitation list.
Iran is skeptical that the US will be interested in anything other than a two-day Iran-bashing fest.
Russia has already said it will not attend the summit, and a wider boycott, or attendance by low-level officials, would demonstrate the United States’ international isolation.
Addressing the UN Security Council, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Tuesday slammed the conference as "counterproductive" because of its focus on countering Iran, and said it would not attend.
Nebenzia said the conference would fail to bolster Middle East security because of its "one-country aspect" and failure to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Attempts to create some kind of military alliances in the region by holding conferences and focusing on having a simplified unilateral approach that is clearly linked just to Iran are counterproductive," Nebenzia told a council debate on the Middle East.
Such a move "just further pushes away the prospects of finding a genuine security architecture for the region," he added.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying Russia would not attend the meeting which is described as an "anti-Iran platform" and a bid to create conditions to weaken the Iran nuclear deal.
"Why has that conference not invited Iran, which is one of the most significant and large countries in the region?" asked Nebenzia.
Iran has reacted angrily to the planned conference and has denounced it as America's anti-Iran "circus."
Facing a lack of enthusiasm, acting US Ambassador Jonathan Cohen described the Warsaw meeting as a "global brainstorming session" and stressed that it was "not the venue to demonize or attack Iran."
Cohen told the Security Council that the conference in Warsaw is also not aimed at discussing the merits of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal known as the JCPOA, which US President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018, AP reported.
European states have remained largely united behind the nuclear deal.
He called the ministerial meeting a brainstorming session to "develop the outline of a stronger security architecture" in the Mideast with sessions on the humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen, missile development, extremism and cybersecurity.
Cohen's comments followed complaints from Iran directed at Poland for co-hosting the conference and a tweet by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denouncing it as a US anti-Iran "circus."
Zarif tweeted that his country had welcomed over 100,000 Polish refugees during the Second World War. “[The] Polish government can’t wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in the Second World War, it now hosts a desperate anti-Iran circus.”
Poland’s motives in agreeing to host the summit were less about hostility to Iran as a need to stay close to Donald Trump as he makes decisions on whether to build a permanent military base on Polish soil.