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(Sean Gallup/Sean Gallup/Getty)

The centerpiece of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip around Europe this week is a much-vaunted policy conference in Warsaw. Ahead of it, the top U.S. diplomat told reporters he wanted to talk about “the future of Middle East stability and prosperity.”

But the summit, initially designed to show international unity against Iran, is looking more and more like it will reveal the contradictions at the heart of President Trump’s policy on the region.

“It is the Iran conference where uttering the word Iran is almost taboo,” Politico’s David Herszenhorn and Nahal Toosi observed from Warsaw on Wednesday as the two-day conference began. “It is the Middle East peace gathering with utterly no chance of forging peace in the Middle East.”

The Washington Post’s Carol Morello noted that many countries had signaled they would not be sending their top diplomats to the meeting. “What Pompeo originally billed as a major conference to pressure Iran on its regional influence, missile testing and terrorism is now as likely to be defined by what it is not — and who is not coming,” Morello wrote.

Differences over the U.S. approach to Iran explain why many European nations are skeptical of the conference. Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement and reimpose sanctions has left its European partners in the deal at odds with Washington. Some feared the United States would take an even more confrontational tone at the gathering this week.

“Squeezing the Tehran regime has become the centerpiece of what passes for Trump’s Mideast strategy,” Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote Feb. 8. “The president and his top officials have made pretty clear their real goal is regime change.”

This is a perception Pompeo has sought to counter. “It’s not about changing the regime,” Pompeo told Voice of America last year. To broaden agreement at the conference in Poland, the U.S. government rearranged the event so that its focus would be on Iran but also look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Yemen and Syria.

At the same time, however, Pompeo’s mission in Warsaw has been undermined by allies of the Trump administration — and even those within the administration itself.

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s attorney, was in Warsaw this week, too. He appeared not with the secretary of state but at a rally organized by Mujahideen-e Khalq, or MEK — an Iranian opposition group. “We want to see a regime change in Iran,” he told a crowd Wednesday, according to a New York Times report.

Giuliani has ties to the administration, though he is not technically a member of it. But even White House national security adviser John Bolton openly predicted a regime change in Iran before he joined the Trump administration, suggesting it would happen before the end of 2018. Like Giuliani, he has aligned himself with MEK despite that group’s lack of support inside Iran and its suspected role in past terrorist attacks.

Bolton has tempered his language since joining the White House, though he still sometimes falls back on old rhetoric. On Monday, for example, the national security adviser released a video that directly addressed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and suggested that within a few years, his regime may no longer be in power — a message that undercut Pompeo’s more cautious tone.

Trump also took to social media to criticize the regime. “The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure,” he tweeted Monday along with an anti-Iran meme made with a photograph of an Iranian protester. The photographer who took the award-winning image was furious. “Because of his policies, I, my family, and my friends are forced to live under sanctions that are devastating to our lives,” photographer Yalda Moaiery said.

Iranians certainly have reason to be suspicious of the United States and its allies. The New York Times reports that the Trump administration has accelerated a secret American program to sabotage Iran’s missiles and rockets — a move that, notably, began while Pompeo was leading the CIA.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, announced a meeting with Arab leaders in Warsaw that would seek to “advance the common interest of combating Iran.”

Worse still, the same day Pompeo and others met in Warsaw, Iranian state media reported that a suicide attack on Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps had killed at least 40 people. Though the attack was blamed on an al-Qaeda-linked group, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, suggested the timing was no accident.

The hardening paranoia appears to be affecting even those with reputations as moderates. At an event Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech in which he praised at length the country’s military and its ballistic missiles program. Over the past five years, Rouhani said, Iran has assisted Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinians and Yemen, and in that time, “[Iran’s] enemies did not achieve any victory.”

The conference in Warsaw may do little to change Rouhani’s mind. Rather than project unity on Iran, Pompeo’s event highlighted the rifts not only between the United States and Europe but between different factions of the Trump administration. Widening the scope of the conference draws attention to even more contradictions.

The Trump administration wants to pull out of Syria, contain the Houthi rebels in Yemen and broker peace with Israel and the Palestinians, all while working to squeeze Iran, a powerful force in all three situations. Its criticism of Tehran over its poor human rights record and its foreign interventions stands in contrast to its refusal to push back on its own Gulf allies for similar accusations.

Even now, it’s not obvious what the U.S. vision of a “better, more stable Middle East” would look like. But one thing is clear: Pompeo won’t find it in Poland.

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