Estonia’s Lennart Meri Conference sheds light on Middle East developments, Saudi-Iran ties

TALLINN: Analysts at a prominent thought leadership conference in Estonia debated on Friday whether the Middle East region and its hotspots have been neglected due to the Western focus on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In what has been described as a “mixed blessing,” there has been a strategic shift by the US toward East Asia and Europe’s preoccupation with Russia, which has led to reduced Western attention on the Middle East, a Lennart Meri Conference panel heard. With some panellists warning that “even if you leave the Middle East, the Middle East will not leave you alone.”

This was discussed during the main event’s pre-opening session at the Lennart Meri Conference, in the Estonian capital, Tallinn. The role of the Middle East, rise of Saudi Arabia along with non-Arab countries, including Iran, Turkiye and Israel, was also considered.

Hanna Notte, senior associate with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, said that the US did not want a war in the Middle East. Notte said that “we can continue playing games with Iran’s JCPOA,” referring to the Iran nuclear deal scrapped by former US president, Donald Trump, which has been stalled since last year.

Notte said that “we are in a bad place” with the JCPOA, and the Iranian regime is now stockpiling uranium, adding to Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “major wrench in global nuclear diplomacy.”

The session tackled the stalled JCPOA deal, and the West’s absence, which may open avenues for other possibly less-benign actors such as Russia and China to assert their influence. An example was their neglect of the impact of Iranian weapons being exported to the conflict in Yemen war but not on the war in Ukraine.

Seth Jones, senior vice president and director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that there had been a decrease in US influence, while China’s had been growing in the Middle East due to a decreased reliance on regional oil and a lessening in the perceived terror threat from region.


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