(January 17, 2019 / The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) On Jan. 11, the governments of the United States and Poland announced plans for a “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.” The Polish foreign minister stated that he hoped that the conference would bring the positions of the United States and Europe closer to each other.
Two days later, the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Polish charge d’affaires in Tehran for an official dressing-down exposing the recent tense relations between Iran and Europe. Iran was furious after the announcement of the “anti-Iranian” conference in Warsaw at the behest of the United States on Feb. 13-14—only two days after the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized during his tour of the Middle East that the United States would double its efforts to increase pressure on Iran. He said that the Warsaw conference would focus on “stability, peace, security and freedom in the Middle East, and it would include an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.” According to an announcement by the U.S. State Department, the meeting “will address a range of critical issues including terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region. … Countries from across the globe have been invited to participate.”1
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the other hand, described the upcoming conference as “a hopeless, anti-Iranian circus.” He reminded the participants in the future conference that those who attended similar anti-Iranian conferences in the past “died, were despised, or became irrelevant, and Iran has become stronger than ever.” Zarif and other senior Iranian officials reminded the Polish government that during World War II, Iran volunteered to help Polish refugees.2 Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi posted pictures of the Polish cemetery in Tehran on his Twitter account and wrote, “The Iranians in Tehran respected their visitors 77 years ago.”3
“Iranians will not forget treason by Poland,” The Tehran Times declared.4
As part of his reprimand to the Polish ambassador, the Iranian foreign minister declared that the conference was a “hostile American measure against Iran, and Poland should refrain from cooperating with the United States by holding the conference. … Poland should immediately appease Iran, so Tehran will not take any reciprocal measures when all the options are on the table during the scandalous conference. … If Poland is honest in its policy toward Iran, as the Polish charge d’affaires claimed, it would have to gather the courage to tell that gangster Pompeo and his thuggish boss, Trump, that the planned conference (in Warsaw) is canceled and Poland will not be a part of these plots against Iran.”5 The newspaper Vatan e-Emrooz referred to “Foolishness in Warsaw” in its main headline. Other media channels defined Poland as another American mercenary.
In the meantime, in response, the Iranian cultural ministry canceled “Polish movie week in Iran,” which was meant to take place in Tehran at the end of January until Warsaw adopts more appropriate behavior toward Iran.
‘Kayhan’: The foreign minister’s passivity is the root problem
The Iranian media, primarily conservative, has also joined the criticism of the Polish government. Conservative newspaper Kayhan, which usually reflects the position of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, asserted in its main headline (Jan. 14) that the source of the anti-Iranian measures recently taken in several European countries (sanctions against the Iranian intelligence ministry) and “their support for terrorist opposition organizations working against Iran and killing citizens is the great weakness displayed by the Iranian foreign minister and his passive policy in his problematic dealings with Europe.”
Kayhan also complained that while the countries in Europe are attempting to convince Iran not to abandon the nuclear deal, they are continuing to create schemes against Iran. Nor are the Europeans successful in guiding the SPV (Special Purposes Vehicle) system (a third-party institution intended to handle transactions with Iran) to bypass the U.S. sanctions, and Europeans are still throwing out Iranian diplomats. Iran’s foreign minister has yet to adopt any retaliatory measures.6 Kayhan brought the example of accusations from Holland and Denmark that Iran was behind clashes between opposition activists in their territory, to which the foreign minister did not respond.7
The newspaper’s English-language edition wrote that the Polish government is the “latest European state to join the bandwagon of the Great Satan and its devilish clients.” Kayhan related that Iran hosted around 120,000 Polish refugees during World War II, and in the 16th and 17th centuries, when Poland suffered attacks from the Ottoman and Tartar armies, the Safavid dynasty then ruling Iran refused to cooperate with an incursion into Poland. Kayhan adds that, “despite this record of Iranian hospitality and goodwill, Poland has willingly agreed to the U.S. demand to play host in its capital Warsaw … to a criminal conference of all those opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and, moreover, on Feb. 13-14, during the 40th anniversary celebrations marking the triumph of the Islamic Revolution.” On social media networks, old stamps were posted that Poland produced as a sign of gratitude to Iran for hosting refugees, particularly in the city of Isfahan.8
At the crossroads
In recent weeks, there has been a marked deterioration in relations between Iran and Europe.
The imposition of sanctions on the Iranian intelligence ministry, the arrest of Iranian diplomats, and repeated delays in operating the system for bypassing sanctions has increased Iran’s sense of disappointment with Europe. Against this backdrop, Iranian media has recently been seen covering the renewal of the uranium enrichment program and “fake news” about the possibility of Iran leaving the nuclear deal and the resignation of senior Iranian foreign ministry officials. Sharp criticism in the Kayhan newspaper clearly shows that the leaders of Iran and the conservative camp are becoming fed up with relations with Europe and asking whether the European Union can deliver the goods for Iran to remain in the nuclear deal following the withdrawal of the United States.
Iran is now between a rock and a hard place. American pressure is mounting. Recent actions concerning Iran include the announcement of the upcoming conference in Warsaw, as well as reports that President Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton asked the Pentagon for contingency plans to attack Iran. Iran’s deteriorating economic situation and the slippery slope in its relations with Europe play right into the hands of the American strategy. On the eve of its 40th anniversary, Iran’s revolution faces a bumpy and risky road ahead with only tough choices to make.
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4 “Iranians will not forget treason by Poland,” The Tehran Times, https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/431876/Iranians-will-not-forget-treason-by-Poland
9 Ghodratollah Narouzi, @IsfahanMayor