Iranian Diplomacy | Kaveh L. Afrasiabi: In the aftermath of the US-sponsored summit on Middle East in Warsaw, there is a strong consensus in Western media that the hastily-arranged meeting failed to meet its US objectives centered on Iran and, instead of forging an international coalition against Iran, its net outcome was to highlight the growing transatlantic rift between US and Europe over Iran, partly as a result of inept US diplomacy accentuating this rift.
Still, some Western commentators have argued that Israel benefited by establishing closer connections with the conservative Arab bloc opposed to Iran, thus portraying Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “winner” of the Warsaw summit. But, the pro-Israel spinners in Western media conveniently ignore the stigma of “Arab collaborator” attached to those Arab diplomats who embraced Netanyahu, who has an appalling record in oppression of Palestinian people and turning a blind eye to their rights. Little surprise, then, that Egypt’s President El Sisi, keenly aware of the ‘ghost of Sadat’ hovering above any Arab politician cozying up to the Zionist regime, was not one of them and, in fact, warned that the Israel-Palestinian issue is the greatest cause of Middle East instability. This was, of course, in sharp contrast to the theme of “Iran threat” harped by US officials at the summit, including Vice-President Mike Pence, who combined his extreme vilification of Iran with a strong denunciation of Europe’s sanctions-bypassing initiatives to save the Iran nuclear deal.
As expected, Pence’s call on Europe to emulate the US by exiting the Iran nuclear deal fell on deaf ears and thus became the latest reminder of US’s isolation in the international community on Iran. Even Poland, the summit’s host, refused to toe Washington’s line on the nuclear accord and played a role in ensuring that the summit’s final document does not criticize Iran, i.e., another blow to White House’s intentions of the Warsaw summit.
But, perhaps the biggest blows were delivered by Iran both before, during, and after the Warsaw summit. Led by Iran’s resourceful Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tehran’s counter-strategy, to neutralize the summit’s potential of creating a new ‘coalition of the willing’ similar to the pre-Iraq invasion of 2003, was highly successful and deserves credit for its skillful “smart diplomacy”. Of course, the mere fact that Russia and Turkey chose to ignore the Warsaw summit and join Iran for a trilateral summit on Syria in Sochi was also highly relevant to the failure of the Warsaw meeting.
China, another world power, also stayed away from the Warsaw gathering, which was aptly described by Zarif as “dead on arrival” due to the important empty seats and the cold shoulder by West European powers, who have dared to stand up to American power on Iran. Iran largely successfully lobbied the European governments to stay away from the Warsaw summit and in essence won the tug of war with US and its allies in the social media over the intent and significance of the Warsaw summit, compared by Zarif to the same “gangs” who caused the Iraq war of choice 16 years ago. Zarif’s criticism was fully warranted, particularly since Netanyahu openly bragged about the “common war with Iran” — that immediately created a backlash against the Arab collaborators at the Summit. Making use of political humor, Zarif’s other tweets, such as the one describing the Warsaw summit as a “circus” drew public attention early on and put the host country on the defensive, to the point that the right-wing Polish government dispatched one of its top diplomats to Iran in order to assure Tehran that it was not on the same page with Washington regarding the summit’s objectives.
Indeed, a careful examination of Zarif’s litany of verbal criticisms of the Warsaw summit shows an important facet of Iran’s soft power that made masterful use of social media for a specific foreign policy purpose at a crucial juncture in Middle East politics. Faced with the relentless anti-Iran propaganda of US government and its allies in the region, Iran actually passed a critical test that, in turn, distinguishes today’s Iran from the pre-2003 Iraq and also highlights the challenges confronting the warmongers thirsting for another major Middle East war. As a result, US’s confrontational policy against Iran was delivered another setback, when in the absence of smart Iranian counter-strategy it could have netted a great harvest for that contested policy. By using Trump administration’s twitter diplomacy against it, Iran managed to score against the US over the Warsaw summit, thus amplifying the point that it takes more than mere slogans to design a “grand strategy” on Iran, in light of summit’s failure to push forward the idea of an “Arab NATO.” Indeed, by putting on display the fractious Arab world, the summit’s net result was a vivid confirmation of the near impossibility of launching this idea at a time when the prerequisite Arab unity is simply missing. This too has a great deal to do with Iran’s regional diplomacy, in light of the pre-Warsaw summit tour of the region by Zarif, who was warmly received in Baghdad, whose government also distanced itself from the Iran-bashing Warsaw summit.
Henceforth, the big question is what real lesson the White House will take from its failure in Warsaw? Will the Trump administration draw the right lesson that this failure stems from a misguided US policy that needs immediate change in the right direction? US and Iran do not need to be at loggerheads all the time and, in fact, have a number of parallel interests that need to be explored through diplomacy. This requires a change of attitude toward Iran by the current US administration, by showing respect and deference to Iran as a major Middle Eastern power. Demonizing Iran and constantly fueling the fire of Iranophobia in the region, which identifies the principal US policy at the moment, is essentially counterproductive and closes the door of diplomacy. A new approach is sadly missing in Washington and yet desperately needed, among other things, for the sake of Middle East stability.