Mike Pompeo branded Iran a “malign influence” and said challenging Tehran was the only way to ensure peace in the Middle East.
Speaking at an international summit on the region in Warsaw on Thursday, the US secretary of state told journalists: “You can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran”.
Standing beside the hawkish Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — whom he met before the summit opened — Mr Pompeo said the Iranian regime was “a malign influence in Lebanon, in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq.” He added. “The three Hs, the Houthis, Hamas and Hizbollah — these are real threats. There are others as well. But you can’t get peace in the Middle East without pushing back [against Iran].”
Big differences have emerged between Washington and the EU on how to prevent Iran gaining nuclear weapons since Donald Trump became president.
The divisions were laid bare in the run-up to the summit in Warsaw, to which Iran has not been invited. Originally billed by Mr Pompeo as an event focused on Iran, its official scope has since been broadened to cover a host of regional issues after some invitees balked at the prospect of an openly anti-Iran agenda.
Despite the diplomatic manoeuvring, Mr Pompeo’s comments are the latest indication that Iran is nonetheless likely to feature prominently at the summit, which representatives of around 60 nations, including the US, Israel and various other Middle Eastern and European states are attending.
Iran has dismissed the gathering as a “circus” and its foreign minister on Wednesday played down the chances of anything tangible emerging from it. “I believe it is dead on arrival,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told foreign media in Tehran “It’s another attempt by the US to pursue an obsession with Iran that is not well founded.”
On Wednesday, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned the US was seeking to implement its “vicious intentions” in the Islamic world.
In his official remarks opening the summit, Mr Pompeo struck a more emollient tone than he had alongside Mr Netanyahu, saying that the conference would not be dominated by any one country.
However, his co-host, Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz, took a tougher stance on the Islamic Republic, expressing concerns over the “possible results of Iran’s nuclear programme as well as the unconstructive route of the country in the region”.
“We unequivocally condemn intolerable actions of Iran beyond its own territory, including Europe, which met with additional EU sanctions,” he said, before adding that despite the differences of opinion between the EU and US over Iran, the only way to “limit negative trends” in the Middle East was through joint action.
US vice-president Mike Pence, Mr Netanyahu and Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki are due to give speeches at the conference later in the day.
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