BEIRUT: Lebanon will refuse to attend a Middle East security conference expected to focus on countering Iran’s malign role in the region, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said on Monday.
The ministerial talks in Poland begin on Wednesday, jointly hosted by the US and attended by about 80 countries.
The US State Department says the Warsaw conference will address issues such as terrorism, extremism, missile development, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region.
Bassil announced Lebanon’s boycott during a visit to Beirut by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“Lebanon will not attend the conference in Warsaw because of Israel’s participation and because Lebanon has adopted a policy of disassociation,” he said.
Zarif welcomed the Lebanese decision, and repeated earlier offers of economic and military assistance.
“Iran is always fully ready to cooperate with Lebanon in all vital and available fields because … this would serve the national interest of the two countries and would not negatively impact any of the parties.”
Bassil said there was “no embarrassment in any economic cooperation with Iran as long as it is within frameworks that protect Lebanon,” a reference to US economic sanctions on Iran.
Meanwhile, the two-day conference in Warsaw is also expected to yield an early look at US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan.
In addition to Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the US will be represented in Poland by presidential adviser Jared Kushner, a key driver of the Trump proposals.
Palestinian leaders, suspecting a betrayal, have turned down a US invitation to the talks and called for a boycott by Arab states.
The leading Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said the Warsaw conference was “an attempt to bypass the Arab Peace Initiative and destroy the Paestinian project.”
The Palestinians had “not mandated anyone to speak on behalf of Palestine,” he said.
The Palestinian Authority has refused to deal with the Trump administration since December 2017. It believes the aim of the Warsaw conference is to normalize relations between Israel and some Arab countries.
Normalization is also an element of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, but only after Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders.