US presents Middle East vision in Warsaw, but no converts

The Polish government, which is closely aligned with President Donald Trump, has joined forces with the US to co-host an international conference on the Middle East on Wednesday Feb. 12, 2019 and Thursday Feb. 13 in Warsaw, hoping to strengthen its ties with Washington as its seeks greater protection from Russia. (File/AP)
Updated 13 February 2019

US presents Middle East vision in Warsaw, but no converts

  • The countries that are sending top officials to Warsaw are pushing for a tough line on Iran
  • Iran was not invited to Warsaw and summoned the Polish ambassador to protest

WARSAW: The US is seeking this week in Warsaw to rally the world behind a vision of the Middle East that includes maximum pressure on Iran and strong backing of Israel, but it is winning little fresh support.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month announced the two-day conference starting Wednesday, saying that foreign ministers from around the world would come to Poland to take up the “destabilising influence” of Iran in the Middle East.
A show of unity would serve as a powerful rejoinder to Iran’s clerical regime, which just this week is celebrating 40 years since Islamic zealots toppled the Western-oriented shah.
But with few RSVPs coming, the United States and Poland have toned down the agenda, stating that the conference is not focused on Iran or on building a coalition against it, but rather looking more broadly at the Middle East.
US Vice President Mike Pence will address the conference, whose co-host is Pompeo.
Even though the meeting takes place in the European Union, major European powers are sending low-level representation with the exception of British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who signalled that he primarily wants to address the humanitarian crisis triggered by the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she had previous commitments and Pompeo instead will have breakfast with her in Brussels on his way home.
Even host Poland — which is eager for strong relations with the United States in the face of a resurgent Russia — has stressed that it still joins the European Union in backing a 2015 deal negotiated by former US president Barack Obama to ease sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
President Donald Trump stormed out of the deal last year, calling it “terrible,” and has reimposed sweeping US sanctions aimed at strangling Iran’s economy and curbing its regional power.
The countries that are sending top officials to Warsaw are pushing for a tough line on Iran including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Arab allies of the United States such as the United Arab Emirates.
Netanyahu said that Iran remained the foremost item on the agenda — “how to continue preventing it from entrenchment in Syria, how to thwart its aggression in the region and, above all, how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”
Yet the United States is also expected in Warsaw to offer hints of its proposals for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who has been putting final touches on a “deal of the century” for the Middle East, will make a rare speaking appearance on Thursday.
Kushner, whose family is close to Netanyahu, is not expected to unveil the proposal until after the April 9 election in Israel.
The Trump administration faces an uphill climb in selling any deal to the Palestinian Authority, which remains livid over Trump’s landmark 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem — claimed by both peoples — as Israel’s capital.
The Palestinian government — which has labelled the Warsaw conference an “American conspiracy” — has refused talks with the United States until it starts what it calls a more balanced policy.
Iran was not invited to Warsaw and summoned the Polish ambassador to protest. But in a show of diplomatic clout, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will travel during the US-led conference to Russia, which declined to attend in Warsaw.
In the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Rouhani will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Syria, where Trump is pulling out US troops.
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said the Warsaw conference should “initiate a process” on finding stability in the Middle East, with a US official saying that countries will hold follow-up meetings.
Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group think tank, said the United States appeared determined to use Warsaw to expand beyond its anti-Iran coalition of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“I doubt Washington will succeed in achieving this objective, because while many in Europe share US concerns with regards to Iran’s regional activities and ballistic missiles program, they don’t agree with Washington’s one-sided and maximalist view that Iran is the source of all evil in the region,” he said.

OIC body urges Muslim countries to promote culture of reading

Updated 52 min 54 sec ago

OIC body urges Muslim countries to promote culture of reading

  • Critical shortage of ‘reading rates’ and ‘lack of access to books’ deplored
  • ISESCO calls on Muslim countries to support publishing industry

RABAT, Morocco: Muslim countries must do more to promote books and reading, the Saudi Press Agency reported one of the world’s largest Islamic organizations as saying.

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), which was founded by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation 40 years ago, called on Muslim countries to improve the publishing industry, provide copyright protection, and preserve manuscripts by digitizing them so that current and future generations could benefit from them.

It made the comments ahead of World Book and Copyright Day, a UN event celebrated on April 23. 

ISESCO said that knowledge and science in Muslim communities soared when printing was discovered, adding that paper books would remain a pillar of culture and a driver for development because civilization was founded on the discovery of writing.

“The media through which knowledge and sciences were transferred have varied with the advent of the information and communications technology revolution,” ISESCO said. “The world now has digital as well as paper books and, in spite of this great leap achieved by humanity to disseminate knowledge and sciences, there is a critical shortage of reading rates, and a large segment of people lack access to books and intermediate technologies. In addition, certain categories of people, such as the visually impaired, do not benefit from a large number of publications.”

The ISESCO statement mentioned statistics that showed an increase in the proportion of published books compared with previous years, which were characterized by a decline in the sector. ISESCO said the functions of paper and digital books were evenly divided.

But the popularity of books and reading could not hide the difficulties and risks facing the written word, it added. Manuscripts faced destruction and theft in some areas of armed conflict and this phenomenon threatened Islamic culture and history, said ISESCO.

The body said that technology could be used to combat book piracy through practical measures such as standardizing legislation, closing legal loopholes and raising awareness about the dangers of piracy.

ISESCO called on member states to give attention to books and reading as well as people with special needs to help them access books.


Environment protection

Separately, ISESCO and the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection (PME) had a meeting on Friday in Rabat, Morocco, to discuss the Saudi Arabia Award for Environmental Management in the Islamic World (KSAAEM).

The meeting, held at ISESCO headquarters, was presided over by PME President Khalil bin Musleh Al-Thaqafi and ISESCO Director General, Abdul Aziz Othman Al-Twaijri.

The meeting hailed the support of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the efforts of the PME and ISESCO in the field of environmental protection in the Islamic world, including raising awareness about the importance of protecting the environment and encouraging scientific research through KSAAEM.

The two sides highlighted their coordination, consultation and cooperation to achieve common goals. Mohammed Hussein Al-Qahtani, PME’s director general of media and public relations, commended the efforts made in this area and the results, and said there was a need to develop the award’s media plan to expand its outreach.

Dr. Abdelamajid Tribak, from ISESCO’s Directorate of Science and Technology, gave a presentation on the activities of KSAAEM’s General Secretariat.

He said the number of nominees had risen this year compared to the previous year, with 200 entrants from 40 Islamic and non-Islamic countries.