From Warsaw to Tehran, Will Freedom Ring?

by AMCD advisor Walid Phares (February 13, 2019)

This week, the United States and Poland will jointly host a ministerial meeting to “promote peace and security in the Middle East” with a focus on Iran’s “destabilizing role in the region.” The international gathering to be held in Warsaw on February 13th and 14th has already been portrayed by Tehran as a US led effort to further isolate and crumble the Ayatollah regime. This first of its genre conference, aiming at mitigating both the Iranian regime and all Jihadists in the region, is important and must be successful. Here are my thoughts:

Need for internationalization

Months ago, I proposed via media and social media, both in the United States and the Middle East, that the next stage of pressures on the Iran regime should include internationalization of the response. My proposition was prompted by the Trump administration’s escalation of sanctions and the ongoing debate over the future of pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. My argument was that unless Washington musters a greater coalition to provoke change inside the country, sanctions won’t be enough to cause change. Economic sanctions need time to take effects and many players, including our own European partners, are working on circumventing them.  

Poland’s role

In parallel, I was meeting with Polish officials during the Fall of 2018 to discuss new Polish and European policies to defend the small minorities in the Middle East, including Yazidis and Christians. One of the suggestions I made was to hold a conference on Middle East minorities in Warsaw. I argued that Poland’s experience with Soviet totalitarianism would provide insights and perspectives helpful against Jihadi totalitarians, ISIS and al Qaeda. From that angle, I suggested a conference on Middle East global issues, including security, civil societies and terrorism. I was glad to learn few weeks ago that the US and Poland agreed to hold such a conference in Warsaw, looking at the whole region.     

Middle East and Iran

I had already argued that it would be preferable to design the summit as focusing on “Middle East Security, Stability, and Human Rights.” Though the chief focus—particularly for the United States—would be containing the Iran regime and the threats it poses, the summit would also discuss and address various conflicts such as those in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya, as well as tensions and terrorism in Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt and Morocco. The summit would discuss the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and the Iran-Saudi and ongoing Turkish-Kurdish conflicts. In sum, it is of great importance that the Warsaw summit is perceived as an international platform, not only for discussion, but for assisting in solving the global crises in the Greater Middle East.

Strategic Messaging

It is important that the strategic messaging for the summit insists that more ideas be added to the existing ones so that the discussions are diversified—thus maintaining the theme of containing radical regime threats, including Iran, while still expanding the scope of the summit to cover a score of issues, including the question of civil societies, minorities, women and energy. I see the Warsaw meeting as a continuation of the Riyadh Summit of 2017. There needs to be a permanent forum tackling the crises of the Middle East. Warsaw is a perfect fit for this role


The US and Poland are well positioned to invite the largest possible number of governments to attend. Mobilizing Arab participation in the Warsaw Summit—particularly the countries of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, Tunisia, and Jordan—would supplement the strategic messaging of the gathering. As with the coalition to support the Venezuelan parliament, a coalition to contain Iran and counter extremism in the Middle East should be wide and include European Governments, the Arab Coalition, and as many countries as possible from Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Partnering with opposition

However, as I argued in my book The Lost Spring and many articles, it is essential that all international conferences dealing with Iran engage the Iranian opposition, both inside and outside the country. Just as Juan Guaido, the current transitional President of Venezuela, was reached out to by the US and the OAS, the Warsaw conference must identify and connect with moderate democratic leaders of the Iranian opposition.

After Riyadh, the Warsaw summit is another good idea. I hope that after Warsaw, Tehran will feel the winds of change blowing too.


First published in History News Network.

Dr. Walid Phares is Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group (TAG), a former foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump and an author.

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