Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a meeting of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states
Regional cooperation has assumed added importance in recent years. Organizations like the European Union (EU), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the regional arrangement of Latin American countries, MERCOSUR, are a few notable successful examples of this kind of cooperation.
Regional cooperation has been present in Asia and Eurasia as well. Countries of this region are part of regional organizations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), has almost all important players of the region within its fold. It started with a limited scope, but in the wake of fast paced globalization and a number of regional and global developments in the political, economic and security environment, the organization has extended its purview under the “Tashkent Declaration” of 2004, to multidimensional issues confronting the member countries at the regional level.
SCO’s vision emphasizes mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation and, recognizing the region’s immense cultural and civilizational diversity, respect for other members’ civilizations, values and models of development. At the same time SCO expressing its concern over interference in other countries’ internal affairs.
Iran's Viewpoints on SCO
The favorable strategies and goals of SCO like Addressing Unilateralism, Assisting to Regional stability, Strengthening Regional Cooperation and Infrastructural Development
and at the same time Tackling Terrorism, Extremism and Separatism
are the main incentives for Islamic Republic of Iran to decide to ask for accession to SCO.
In 2005, Iran declared its applicant for accession to SCO and applied for full membership on 24 March 2008. However, because Iran was under sanctions levied by the United Nations at the time, it was blocked from admission as a new member. The SCO stated that any country under UN sanctions could not be admitted.
Iran has long had observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but its application to join the SCO could not be considered for several years because of the problems related to Tehran's nuclear program.After the UN sanctions were lifted, Chinese president Xi Jinping in his state visit to Tehran announced china's support for Iran's full membership in SCO during a state visit to Iran in January 2016 And Russian President and Prime minister and many other SCO member state's officials in different occasions confirmed their support for Iran's accession to SCO.
The 17th summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was held on June 8 and 9 in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana to mark the 15th anniversary of the founding of the organization. During the meeting, India and Pakistan, which had attended the organization’s previous meetings as observer members since 2005, were promoted to full membership.
Before the meeting was held, it seemed that Iran's membership at the SCO would be also on the agenda and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had conducted intensive consultations with heads of state and foreign ministers from member countries. However, the SCO remained silent on Iran's membership during the summit.
Before the summit, hope had raised about Iran's membership through support of Russian and Chinese officials but it didn't happen.
What Are the Reasons?
There is no exact answer and in different occasions unofficially it has been said different answers which are based on analytical approach rather than real answer. Iranian especially intellectuals, academicians ad politicians never accepted these claims.
a) Iran's membership increases tensions between Iran and the United States under President Donald Trump.
b) Iran's regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia are sure to instigate smaller members of the SCO against Iran's membership.
c)Tajikistan is said one of the main opponents of Iran's accession because of participation of the leader of the banned Islamic Revival Party in an international conference hold in Tehran.
It is not important whether above mentioned reasons are true or not, the main important issue is Iran fined less interest in accession to SCO and after 17th
SCO summit Iran decreased her activities for joining SCO.
The Importance of Iran for SCO
SCO membership for Iran is not unilateral interest for Iran but it is mutual interest for both. If Iran becomes a member of the SCO, this will benefit both the SCO and Iran:
1- The organization will become truly regional.
2- Iran's full membership at the SCO will certainly increase the organization’s political weight due to Iran's power and strategic position.
3- Iran's accession will contribute to the development of transport corridors. The North-South transport corridor can connect Afghanistan and Central Asia to the major transport corridor that goes from Southeast Asia through India to St. Petersburg and Europe.
In fact, Iran's accession to the SCO would allow the organization to “unfreeze” major logistics projects blocked in the mid-2000s because of Tehran's isolation from the global economy, particularly the International North-South Transportation Corridor, a trade route between India and Scandinavia via Iran and Russia. Tehran is a crucial link in the "New Silk Road" project. The south-east of Iran – a coastal area on the border with Pakistan – and the port of Chabahar in particular, is an important area for maritime trade.
4- In terms of regional security, Iran's participation could contribute to the settlement of the situation in Afghanistan. Iran is more interested than anyone in ensuring security in Afghanistan. Its Afghan border is one of its most problematic regions.
5- Iran is one of the most experienced states on fighting against terrorism, extremism and separatism in the region and by Iran accession to SCO all member states can enjoy from these experiences.
Iran's accession to the SCO will become a guarantor of the stability and security of the member states of the organization. Iran has a profound experience in the fight against terrorism and is able to help the SCO member states increase security in their countries. Iran, in turn, will be able to expand its cooperation with such strong member states such as Russia and China.
6- Last but not least, there is a strong need for more partners to tackle new treats in the world after new global developments following the Trump's exclusivism.
SCO is an important regional organization and because of many circumstances it is going to be an immerging regional power. Since the beginning of SCO’s formation, Iran as an important regional state has interested to access it but for many reasons it has not happend.
NB: This article is first presented at Second Sochi Eurasian Integration Forum "Prospects for the development and strengthening of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization", Sochi, Russian Federation, April 17, 2018.
Rasoul Mousavi, an Iranian distinguished diplomat, is the senior fellow at IRAS.
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