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February 14, 2019

The Warsaw Summit and Effective Multilateralism

The Trump administration has sought to break out of its international isolation on Iran by pressuring nations to go to Warsaw for a summit on peace and security in the Middle East. But the administration has failed to craft an effective multilateral approach towards Iran based on common concerns and a realistic understanding of what is achievable.

Despite White House backtracking from an initial expressed aim to focus on Iran, US officials and regional leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the occasion to unleash rhetorical barbs against Iran—which was not invited. 

Many other key countries and parties, such as Russia, China, Turkey, Qatar and the Palestinians, boycotted the Warsaw meeting; US European allies, apart from Brexit-burdened Britain, sent only mid-level representatives.

The Trump administration has attempted to compel key partners into adopting its objectives towards Iran, such as withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, other powers have made clear their desire to continue to engage Iran politically and economically. Indeed, these powers have not lost sight of the fact that Iran—for reasons having to do with its size, location and natural resources—is and will continue to be a regional power no matter what its form of government. This is not only reflected in their aim to preserve the JCPOA, but also their belief that Iran must be a component of any sustainable order in the Middle East.

Notably, the Warsaw summit overlapped with the latest round of Syria peace talks between Iran, Russia and Turkey in Sochi. These “Astana-process” negotiations highlight another approach to multilateralism: one based on fostering cooperation between opposing powers based on mutual interests. In Sochi, the parties continued negotiations on a political settlement in Syria, hashing out details of a constitutional committee comprised of figures approved by the Syrian government and opposition.

Read more on Atlantic Council’s IranSource.

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