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Pompeo, Netanyahu urged Arab leaders to consolidate and prepare for war with Iran at Warsaw Conference. Europe sent low level delegations. A leaked video from the conference reveals that Arab leaders are ready to abandon solidarity with Palestinians. We speak with Vijay Prashad for analysis.
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
The Warsaw Conference of 2019, which is a meeting of foreign ministers from many countries around the world, has just ended this year. The main item on the agenda was Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, who is also Israel’s foreign minister, attended the meeting, and his offices allegedly have leaked this 30-minute video from the internal discussions. Here is a short segment from a leaked video in which we hear the Bahraini Foreign Minister Mohammad Al Kalifa saying that Iran is the most toxic challenge in modern history.
KHALID BIN AHMED AL KHALIFA: We grew up talking about the Palestine-Israel dispute as the most important issue that we have to see either solved, one way or another. But then, at a later stage, we saw a bigger challenge. We saw a more toxic one, in fact the most toxic in our modern history, which came from the Islamic Republic. From Iran.
Because Iran is a country, Iran is a people, Iran is a civilization, Iran is a peace-loving nature of its own people, but not the theofascist regime.
SHARMINI PERIES: And if you have any doubt that this was released, or leaked, here’s Prime Minister Netanyahu himself speaking about the conference and what took place in his own words.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I have just come from an excellent meeting with Oman’s minister responsible for foreign affairs. We discussed additional steps we can take together with countries in the region in order to advance common interests. From here I’m going to meet with 60 foreign ministers and envoys of countries from around the world against Iran. What is important about this meeting, and this meeting is not secret, because there are many like those, is that this is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance common interests of war with Iran.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now joining me to discuss all of this is Vijay Prashad. Vijay is the director of Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, and he’s also the chief editor of LeftWord Books. They’re celebrating their 20th anniversary in a few weeks. Welcome, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Thanks a lot.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Vijay, let’s unpack that statement by the Bahraini foreign minister, and of course, what Netanyahu there said, as well. Is Iran such a toxic influence in the region?
VIJAY PRASHAD: I think it’s interesting that they use words like fascism to define the Iranian government. You know, we should be clear that we’re talking about Gulf Arab states which are monarchies, authoritarian governments. There’s no elections. They have very little representative structure. These are mostly either kings, as in Saudi Arabia, or they are smaller [in level] in Bahrain, and Qatar, in, you know, the United Arab Emirates, and so on.
So the fact that they are complaining about what they call the regime in Iran on the grounds of fascism or authoritarianism is not with an ounce of credibility. On the other side of it, we know very well that Mr. Netanyahu is going into a parliamentary election very soon. And in Israel it’s quite clear that Netanyahu does well when he’s aggressive in terms of foreign policy. Inside Israel there are serious problems and crises of legitimacy for not only Mr. Netanyahu, but the entire Israeli political system.
You know, there are real economic problems. There’s the intractable issue of Israeli apartheid against the Palestinians. So you know, it’s quite clear that the Israelis on the one side and the Gulf Arab states on the other want to demonize Iran in order to maintain their own hegemonies.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Vijay, it’s a serious conference with foreign ministers at the table, and they’re openly talking about a war with Iran. How real is this possibility?
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, let’s look at who came to the conference I think this is important. You know, the United States sent the top level people, Mike Pence, the vice president; Pompeo came, the secretary of state. He even brought Rudy Giuliani to speak outside the conference, essentially to an Iranian terrorist group, where he, much more than people inside the conference, declared war against Iran.
But meanwhile, the Germans didn’t send any high level people. The French didn’t send high level people. And the European Union didn’t send any high level people. This is very important, Sharmini, because these are the signatories to the Iran nuclear deal. In other words, they knew that after the United States had walked away from the Iran nuclear deal, they knew that this year’s conference in Warsaw was going to be comical, was going to be filled with threats of war; essentially the opposite of diplomacy, which is why these countries stayed away.
And I think the United States should see this as a great embarrassment, that its vice president, its secretary of state, went to a conference where the counterparts to then–in other words, heads of governments, of France, Germany, of the European Union; foreign ministers, Federica Mogherini, really, people like that essentially snubbed them, and left the United States with its Gulf Arab friends, with the Israelis, to talk in the kind of cesspool way about war. You know, they don’t have any alliances which are willing to give them a fig leaf in Iran. The Europeans are not going to kind of come in and make adult the war against Iran. They are very opposed to it. The Europeans, in terms of Iran, will do everything to prevent conflict.
Of course, the situation is different, Sharmini, vis a vis Venezuela, where the Europeans seem as eager the United States, or perhaps lackadaisically as eager as the United States, to have some sort of military confrontation in Venezuela. Certainly with Iran they know that they are absolutely reliant on oil sales. They don’t want a war. It was clear in Warsaw that the real–a party that was, in a sense, humiliated was not Iran, but it was the United States government led by Donald Trump.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, was recently interviewed on NBC. And he was asked whether he’s open to renegotiating the Iran deal with Mr. Trump directly. And here’s what he said.
SPEAKER: President Trump has said he’s open to meeting one day with your president, the Iranian president, potentially to renegotiate the Iran deal.
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: Why should we negotiate a deal which we spent not just a couple of hours meeting, but 13 years to negotiate? And we negotiated with the United States? Why should we trust President Trump, that he would abide by his own signature? We’re talking about a country that has withdrawn from every known treaty, from INF, from UNESCO, from Council on Human Rights, from NAFTA. From whatever, you name it, they’ve withdrawn from it.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right now, Vijay, clearly, as you said, the foreign ministers from many of the European nations, the counterparts of their allies of the United States were not at this meeting. And clearly the foreign minister of Iran here is still locked into this agreement with Europe. And this reinforces your point, which is it is the United States here that’s isolated. So what will or what should Iran be doing in terms of if this threat is real about war, and Trump does approach him and say, you know, I want to talk about the agreement? What are Iranians going to really do with this threat of war held over their head?
VIJAY PRASHAD: I think it’s important for Americans and others to know that Mr. Zarif, the foreign minister, is an extraordinarily smart man. He did a Ph.D. at the University of Denver on self defense in international law and diplomacy. This is a man who knows what he’s doing. So when he makes that kind of statement, he’s essentially saying to the Europeans that look, you and us–that is, the Europeans and the Iranians, and the United Nations are quite happy with this deal, which was ratified by the United Nations. We want to hold by it. You want to hold by it–that is, the Europeans. You don’t want to break this deal. This is something that the United States is doing by itself as a party to the deal. It has walked away. I think this is a very clever strategy because he knows that the Europeans and the United States are divided. And he’s going to essentially sit on this divide, and he’s not try to bring them together in any way; he’s not trying to ruffle any feathers. You know, it’s important for people to know that it was Mr. Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States, who went to the Warsaw conference and attacked the Europeans. You know, he essentially accused them of letting the United States down.
This is, of course, one way to make allies and friends of the Europeans on this issue. So Zarif is playing a very key role here in making sure the Europeans know that he’s going to abide by international law. And I really think that on this issue for the United States, for the Gulf Arabs, and for Israel, it’s going to be very difficult to move towards a situation of war. Zarif also said in that interview that a war would be suicide. And again, Sharmini, the parallel with Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela is quite interesting, because Maduro last week said that the war against Venezuela would be a replay of the U.S. war on Vietnam, another suicidal war. I think that these people are quite aware that there’s going to be a lot of threats thrown around. There would be a lot of psychological warfare happening. Economic warfare. But I think they know that the United States might have the capacity to do one or two aerial bombing runs against Iran or Caracas, but they know that the United States doesn’t have the appetite to be in the middle of four or five theatres at the same time, still embroiled in Afghanistan, caught up in the Sahel region of Africa, still not fully pulled out of Iraq. And I think the appetite for a war in Iran and in Venezuela is very low.
SHARMINI PERIES: And finally, Vijay, why are the European nations are so easily giving up Venezuela to the Americans in this way, and they have dug their heels in on Iran?
VIJAY PRASHAD: I mean, this is a very interesting discussion, and I wish we had somebody from the European Union to talk to about this openly on camera, because there’s a kind of hypocrisy involved here. On Iran the Europeans are standing fast to questions of the nuclear deal, to questions of the United Nations Charter, to issues of international law, as it were. Europeans are making a lot of this. In fact, what is there on the table is that the Europeans look forward to the full return of Iran to supply them with energy. After all, the Libyan market has been destroyed. Libya is not near what it was producing for the European market before the destruction in 2011. There remain sanctions against Russia. Russian energy having a hard time entering Europe. It’s Iranian energy that could, in a sense, forestall Europe’s major energy crisis. They have a material interest in standing by international law when it comes to Iran.
When it comes to Venezuela, I think they are demonstrating that they don’t really abide by international law, the UN Charter, the sovereign rights of countries to have their own legal standards, and so on. They seem to have thrown that overboard when it comes to Venezuela, some of that because they don’t have a material interest at stake in the same way as they do with Iran. That demonstrates how shallow their commitment is to international law and the rule of law.
So I mean, in this sense it’s disappointing to see the Europeans, who always speak in the most high-minded language, but here again have been revealed to be reducible to their own material interests.
SHARMINI PERIES: I’ve been speaking with Vijay Prashad, the director of Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, and chief editor at LeftWord Books. Vijay, as always, thank you so much for joining us.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Thanks a lot.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.