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U.S. insists Mideast summit in Warsaw is not about bashing Iran, but Iran begs to differ

US Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo In Poland
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz (L) shakes hands with the U..S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) during the welcome ceremony at the Lazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland, Feb. 12, 2019. Getty

Warsaw, Poland -- The motorcades have descended on Warsaw, as delegates begin to arrive ahead of Thursday's Middle East Summit. 

"We are going to gather up to talk about the future of Middle East stability and prosperity," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Tuesday. "This is a global coalition that is built to deliver on the important mission of reducing the risk that has emanated from the Middle East for far too long."

The summit, co-hosted by the U.S. and Poland, is being billed as a geo-political brainstorming session, where participants from approximately 60 countries will discuss a range of issues including the fight against ISIS and the conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

But what the U.S. really wants to talk about is Iran. 

Netanyahu says "the focus is Iran"

The Warsaw meeting was originally conceived as an opportunity for the U.S. to ratchet up international pressure on Tehran, which the Trump administration views as the region's chief antagonist. The agenda was broadened, however, after European allies pushed back.

Many of those countries, including host Poland, still support the Iran nuclear deal and they're working hard to salvage the arrangement in the wake of President Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out.

"That doesn't hinder us in looking for a common approach, a way to cooperate in the transatlantic dimension," Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "We will be focused on the most problematic horizontal issues rather than individual states."

That messaging, however, seems to have gotten muddled. 

Before leaving for Warsaw, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that the point of the summit was obvious. 

"The focus is Iran," he said. "This brings together Israel, the U.S., and countries in and beyond the region. There will be interesting meetings there."

The view from Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the meeting "dead in the water" on Wednesday, and criticized the Polish government for hosting the "anti-Iran show."

At a news conference in Tehran, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer asked Zarif if there was a way to deescalate the tensions between the U.S. and Iran by establishing a clear line of communication. 

Iranians feel impact of U.S. sanctions 02:15

Zarif said the military escalation in the Middle East was the fault of the U.S., for "pouring weapons into the region." He said there was no offer of direct communications "on the table" and called on Washington to treat Tehran with "mutual respect."

The Iranian Mission to the United Nations, meanwhile, issued a statement accusing the U.S. of trying to, "highjack the forum to demonize Iran's role in the region, and pursue their malicious intentions. This 'Ministerial' is yet another attempt by the U.S. administration to undermine and bypass the internationally recognized arrangements for maintenance of peace and security embodied in the United Nations and its Security Council."

The Mission accused the Trump administration of implementing foreign policy objectives that were "unconstructive, biased, confused and self-contradictory," and pointed to Mr. Trump's own words about the Syria conflict as evidence.

"The U.S. president has made it clear on numerous occasions that the only guiding principle in the U.S. foreign policy is money, and that they do not care for anything else," the statement said, quoting Mr. Trump's own description of Syria when he announced the U.S. withdrawal from the country: "Syria was lost long ago. It was lost long ago. We're not talking about vast wealth. We're talking about sand and death. I'm getting out; we're getting out of Syria. Look, we don't want Syria."

"Real progress," but no clear goals

Regardless of the actual focus of the summit, or how the Iranians feel about it, the show will go on. 

Vice President Mike Pence was expected address the summit on a broad range of topics related to Mideast security.

Pompeo will talk about Syria, following President Trump's decision to withdraw American forces from the country, and White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner will give an update on the Middle East peace process. 

There are no are no set goals or benchmarks for the summit. Guidance from the State Department has been short on details.

Several nations, including France and Germany, are only sending lower-level officials. The Palestinians and Turks aren't coming at all. Russia and China are also sitting this one out. 

Still, the State Department remains optimistic. 

"We think we will make real progress," Pompeo said Tuesday. "There will be dozens of nations there seriously working towards a better, more stable Middle East, and I'm hoping by the time we leave on Thursday we'll have achieved that."

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