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February 26, 2019
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


The Middle East Institute
1319 18th St NW
Washington, DC, 20036 (Map)

The Middle East Institute (MEI) and Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) are pleased to host a panel on potential future geopolitical scenarios in the Middle East. Although President Trump ordered a withdrawal from Syria, the conflict is about to enter its ninth year and the prospects for a lasting diplomatic solution or military win remain slim. Russian and Iranian interests in Syria of keeping Assad in power diverge greatly with U.S.- and Saudi-backed efforts to unseat the Assad regime.

What’s at stake for the United States, Europe, Russia, and other critical actors in the Middle East? What are the options for the United States and EU to engage productively in the region, in order to protect human rights, promote the rule of law, and facilitate an end to the region's conflicts? Is diplomacy capable of reconciling the complexity of the conflicts in the Middle East?

Opening Remarks:

Joan Polaschik 
Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
Ambassador Polaschik assumed her duties as the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs on August 30, 2017. A career Foreign Service Officer with the rank of Minister Counselor, Ambassador Polaschik served most recently as the U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, August 2014- July 2017.  Her career has focused on the Middle East and North Africa, with assignments as Director of the State Department’s Office of Egypt and Levant Affairs and Director of the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs; Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya; Regional Refugee Coordinator based at the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan; Political Officer in Tunisia; and other staff-level assignments in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.  She also has served in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.  


Ambassador Gerald Feierstein
Senior vice president, MEI
Ambassador Gerald Feierstein is senior vice president at MEI. He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in May 2016 after a 41-year career with the personal rank of Career Minister. As a diplomat he served in nine overseas postings, including three tours of duty in Pakistan, as well as assignments in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Tunisia. In 2010, President Obama appointed Feierstein U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, where he served until 2013. From 2013 until his retirement, Feierstein was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. In addition to his career-long focus on the Near East and South Asia, Amb. Feierstein also played a prominent role in developing and implementing State Department policies and programs to counter violent extremism.  As Deputy Coordinator and Principal Deputy Coordinator in the State Department’s Counter-Terrorism bureau, Feierstein led the development of initiatives to build regional networks to confront extremist groups as well as to counter terrorist financing and promote counter-terrorism messaging.

The Honorable Rolf Mützenich
Member, German Bundestag; Deputy Parliamentary Leader for Foreign Policy, Defense, and Human Rights, SPD Parliamentary Group
Rolf Mützenich has represented Cologne as a member of the German Bundestag for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) since 2002. He is the Deputy Parliamentary Leader for foreign policy, defense, and human rights in the SPD Parliamentary Group. Additionally, he chairs the German-Iranian Parliamentary Group, serves as an alternate member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defense Committee, and the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid. He was speaker on foreign affairs for the SPD Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag from 2009-2013, and previously the group speaker on disarmament from 2004-2009. Mützenich focuses on foreign policy and arms control, with specific expertise in transatlantic cooperation, Russia, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. Apart from his foreign policy focus, Mützenich is committed to working with social and youth associations.

Karen Attiah (moderator)
Global Opinions editor, The Washington Post
Karen Attiah is the Global Opinions editor at The Washington Post, where she commissions and edits commentary on global issues from a variety of international writers. She joined The Post in 2014 as a digital producer in the Opinions section. Attiah often writes on issues relating to race, gender and international politics, with a special interest in Africa. Previously, she reported as a freelancer for the Associated Press while based in the Caribbean. Attiah was a Fulbright scholar to Ghana and holds a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University. She received her bachelor's degree in communication studies from Northwestern University.