WARSAW, Poland - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence zeroed in on Iran on Thursday when he addressed Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and foreign ministers and envoys of fifty countries representing the Middle East, including Arab nations at a summit in the Polish capital of Warsaw.
The historic summit was aimed at enhancing peace and security in the Middle East. The vice president addressed the issue of U.S. involvement in the region, stressing that it was not disengaging, but despite withdrawing troops will retain a presence.
Mr Pence feted Israeli-Arab cooperation, and noted the recent visit by Pope Francis to the UAE.
Despite the underlying theme of the conference being peace in the Middle East, ostensibly between Israel and the Palestinians, the vice president gave the issue almost zero attention. In his 3,136 word speech the word Palestinian did not appear. He used the word Palestinians once, when he said: "And under President Donald Trump's leadership, the United States of America remains fully committed to achieving a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians."
That was the first and last mention of the main topic of the conference by the vice president.
His main subject however, that he returned to again and again was Iran. It brought parallels with a previous U.S. administration whose foreign policy too became obsessed with a single country - Iraq.
It was on 6 April 2004 that the late Senator Edwward Kennedy said in a speech at the Brookings Institute, "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam."
So would it be today that "Iran is Donald Trump's Iraq?"
Iran is being portrayed as a destablising force in the world, particularly in the Middle East, and according to the United States is 'the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.'
On Thursday, the vice president went so far as to say the Iranian regime is openly advocating another Holocaust, and it is seeking the means to achieve it.
In addressing 'the Iranian threat' in his recent State of the Union speech, the U.S. president in describing the misdeeds of the Islamic Republic said "they do bad, bad things," without elaboration.
On Thursday his deputy was making the case that Iran through its proxies, the three 'H"s, Houthis, Hezbollah and Hamas were wreaking havoc on the world. Others would see the Houthis as being active in Yemen only, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. All domestic resistance groups, in their eyes and in the eyes of some, but terrorist groups in the eyes of others, particularly the United States. Regardless, none of the groups have any obvious activities underway outside their own environments. In recent years Hezbollah was blamed for a bus bombing in Bulgaria which killed a number of Israelis. The tragedy occurred at a time when Europe was debating whether to brand Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Despite copping the blame, when indictments were handed down the word Hezbollah did not appear in any of them. It appears Hezbollah was not to blame after all.
Nonetheless, Mr Pence was in full flight on Thursday in Warsaw, and he was not alone. Most Western countries share a similar dislike to Iran, Arab nations in particular say the country is interfering with other nations in the region, and has become a destablilising force. The most vocal critic of Iran however, outside the U.S. is Israel.
The U.S. vice president noted that this was where Arab countries and the Jewish state had common ground, and hinted reconciliation was in the air.
"Longstanding enemies are becoming partners. Old foes are finding new ground for cooperation. And the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are coming together in common cause as never before. This historic conference is a testament to the truth that a new era has begun," Mr Pence said in his remarks at the PGE National Stadium in Warsaw.
The vice president lambasted the Clinton and George W. Bush adminstrations, blaming them for past terrorist attacks and together with the Obama administration, the emergence of ISIS.
"Previous administrations in my country too often underestimated the danger that radical Islamic terrorism posed to the American people, our homeland, our allies, and our partners," he said. "Their inaction saw the terrorist attacks from the U.S.S. Cole; to September 11th; to the expansion of ISIS across Syria and Iraq, reaching all the way to the suburbs of Baghdad."
"But as the world has witnessed over the past two years, under President Trump, those days are over," he said.
The vice president was also quick to explain that the president's theme of 'America First,' was not all that it seemed.
"Since day one, President Trump has restored American leadership on the world stage. And in implementing our National Security Strategy, we've taken decisive action to protect the American homeland, promote American prosperity, advance American interests, and preserve peace through strength," he said.
Under President Trump's leadership, the United States is once again putting the security and prosperity of America first. But as the past two years have shown, across the Middle East and across the wider world, "America First" does not mean America alone."
Working together, the U.S. has been able to eradicate Islamic terrorism altogether, Mr Pence said.
"Together with our allies, the United States has brought the full force of our military to drive radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth."
"We've taken the fight to radical Islamic terrorists on their terms, on their soil, and on our terms. President Trump gave our commanders in the field the authority they needed to hit ISIS and drive them back. And thanks to the courage of our armed forces and the efforts of our 78 coalition partners, we've liberated millions of people: Iraqis, Syrians, Arabs, Kurds, Muslims, Christians, men, women, and children. And very soon, the territory of the ISIS caliphate will be no more."
"In the wake of these gains, President Trump has announced that the United States will begin to hand off the fight to our partners in the region and to bring our troops home," said Pence.
"This is a change in tactics, not a change in mission. The United States will keep a strong presence in the region. We recognize it will not be enough to simply reclaim the territory of the caliphate. As we enter this new phase, the United States will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with all of our allies and all those who step up to take a larger role in this campaign."
"And working with our coalition partners, we will continue to hunt down the remnants of ISIS wherever and whenever they rear their ugly head. And America will continue to stand strong with all our partners in the region to make the Middle East safe for peace, prosperity, and the advance of human rights," the U.S. vice president said.
The U.S. support for Israel was underlined, and the VP even raised the Khashoggi affair, asserting the Trump administration would pursue justice for the murdered Washington Post columnist.
"The United States will never fail to stand with our ally, Israel. We will never fail to call out attacks on innocent civilians or a free and independent press, even as we continue to demand that all those responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi be brought to justice," he said.
But again he returned to Iran, even going so far as to saying the country was advocating another Holocaust. He also took aim at anti-semitism.
"Last night was remarkable. At the outset of this historic conference, leaders from across the region agreed that the greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran."
"Forty years ago this month, the mullahs seized control of that country. And every year since, they've supported terrorist proxies and militias - Hezbollah and Hamas; exported missiles; fueled conflicts in Syria and Yemen and beyond," Mr Pence said.
"The Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world. They have bombed American embassies, murdered hundreds of American troops, and even to this day, they hold hostage citizens of the United States and other Western nations."
"Iran has brazenly defied United Nations sanctions, violated resolutions, and plotted terrorist attacks on European soil," the vice president said.
"As President Trump has said, "The Iranian regime has funded its long reign of chaos and terror by plundering the wealth of its own people.""
"The authoritarian regime in Tehran represses the freedom of speech and assembly, it persecutes religious minorities, brutalizes women, executes gay people, and openly advocates the destruction of the State of Israel. The Ayatollah Khamenei himself has said, "It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map.""
"Later today, my wife and I will lay a wreath at the memorial to the Jewish fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. And tomorrow, we will pay our solemn respects to the martyrs of the Holocaust as we make our first visit to Auschwitz," Pence told the assembly.
"From the dark years of Nazi occupation, the people of Poland know all too well that anti-Semitism is not just wrong; it's evil. And anti-Semitism must be confronted, wherever and whenever it arises, and it must be universally condemned."
"But beyond its hateful rhetoric, the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it. Iran seeks to recreate the ancient Persian Empire under the modern dictatorship of the ayatollahs. As we speak, that regime is attempting to carve out a corridor of influence running through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, hoping to create an unbroken passage for its armies and its ideology. And it has left a trail of devastation in its wake," Pence said.
"In Syria, Iranian troops have propped up the Assad regime, fueling the dictator's brutal war on his people."
"In Lebanon, Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, has built an arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets and missiles, equipped with Iranian-supplied advanced guidance systems," the vice president said.
"In Yemen, Houthi rebels fire Iranian-made rockets as they wage war against the government, spreading chaos throughout the country."
"And in Iraq, Iranian-backed militias are operating outside of the Iraqi government's control, targeting American interests, threatening minorities, and stealing vital international aid meant to help Iraq recover from the scourge of ISIS," Pence said.
"And of all Iran's meddling, it's only added fuel to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis across the region."
"In Syria, more than 5.7 million people have been forced to flee their homes," the U.S. vice president said.
"In Yemen, more than a million people have contracted cholera, and millions more lack access to clean water. Hunger is so widespread that every ten minutes, a child dies an entirely preventable death."
"And in Iraq, even though the ISIS caliphate has been decimated, more than 1.8 million Iraqis still haven't returned to their homes," Pence said Thursday.
"The plight of the oppressed in the Middle East, and the threat posed by their oppressors, has spurred the United States to action."
"Thanks to the courage of our armed forces, more than 5 million people are now free from the grip of ISIS," Mr Pence explained.
"And with the generosity of the American people, the United States has provided more than $9 billion in humanitarian aid and civilian assistance to those affected by the multiple crises across the Middle East - more than any other nation on Earth."
"The United States of America has been a force for good in the Middle East. But under the mullahs' regime in Iran, for their people, it's been 40 years of corruption, 40 years of repression, 40 years of terror, and 40 years of failure," Pence said.
"And for too long, America tried wishing away the dangers of a radical Islamism that is poisoning both of Islam's great Sunni and Shia streams; a radicalism that seeks to crush every form of dissent and divergence."
"The previous administrations' desire for peace at any price drove them to strike a devil's bargain with our common enemy – the enemy of our allies and partners in the Middle East," Pence said.
"But since day one of this administration, President Trump promised to stand with the good people of Iran and stand up to their oppressors. And that's just what we've done."
"President Trump kept his word when he withdrew the United States of America from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action did not prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It merely delayed the day when that vile regime would gain access to the world's deadliest weapons," the vice president said.
"And remarkably, the universal view of those who spoke last night at this very conference was that Iran has actually become more aggressive since the JCPOA was signed, not less."
"The United States re-imposed sanctions that should never have been lifted in the first place and we've launched a new campaign to prevent the regime from financing its trademark terror and destruction around the world," said Pence.
"And since then, the UAE has canceled its imports of Iranian condensate. Bahrain is exposing the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps proxies active in its country, and is working to stop Iran's illicit maritime activities in the region. And countries across the globe are working toward cutting Iranian oil imports to zero."
The vice president, while praising Gulf countries, was quick to level critcism at European nations and the UK.
"Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as cooperative. In fact, they've led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions," he said.
"Just two weeks ago, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom announced the creation of a special financing mechanism designed to oversee a mirror-image transaction that would replace sanctionable international payments between EU businesses and Iran."
"They call this scheme a "Special Purpose Vehicle." We call it an effort to break American sanctions against Iran's murderous revolutionary regime. It's an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU, and create still more distance between Europe and the United States," said Pence.
"Some argue that Iran is in technical compliance with the narrow terms of the deal. But compliance is not the issue; the deal is the issue."
"Today, America's economic sanctions on Iran are the toughest in history and will get tougher still unless and until Iran changes its dangerous and destabilizing behavior. As President Trump has said, "There has been enough suffering, death, and destruction. Let it end now.""
"The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and the Iranian people; to stand with our allies and friends in the region. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve," the vice president said.
"We must not let this opportunity slip from our hands. In June 2009, after the Iranian regime stole an election to maintain its grip on power, the previous administration refused to raise its voice when the Iranian people took to the streets in what came to be known as the "Green Movement." It wasn't until the Congress acted that the United States declared its support for the Iranian people," Mr Pence said.
"As a member of Congress, it was my privilege to introduce a bipartisan resolution that passed overwhelmingly that showed the support of the American people, and only then did our administration follow. But soon, the ayatollahs and their henchmen used the cover of the world's timidity to murder, imprison, and terrify freedom-loving Iranians."
"The world missed an opportunity last time to confront the regime, but not this time. This time, all of us must stand strong. As Iran's economy continues to plummet, as the people of Iran take to the streets, freedom-loving nations must stand together to hold the Iranian regime accountable for the evil and violence it's inflicted on its people, on the region, and the wider world," Pence said.
"So to all of you gathered here who share this vision for peace and security across the Middle East, I make you a promise on behalf of the President of the United States and the American people: If you stand with us in this noble cause, we will stand with you. Together, we will embrace a shared future, building on the best traditions of the past."