Does Iran need to join Shanghai Cooperation Organization?

By Hamidreza Azizi, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.

Uzbekistan hosted the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on June 23-24. As expected, Iran’s accession was one of the main topics on the agenda. However, according to Russia’s special presidential envoy, Bakhtier Khakimov, SCO members failed to reach an agreement on initiating the accession process for Iran despite Moscow’s support for the idea, once again triggering debate over the reasons behind the rejection of Iran. However, a more important and fundamental question is whether Iran really needs to join the SCO at all.

Having been an observer state in the organization since 2005, Iran presented its request for full membership in 2008 under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad’s attempts to join the SCO were part of his grand foreign policy approach called “Look to the East,” the main basis of which was strengthening relations with Asian and Latin American powers to offset Iran’s deteriorating ties with the West. However, SCO members — above all Russia — rejected Iran’s request. They argued that SCO regulations disqualify countries under international sanctions for full membership status.

Over the past year, in the wake of the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers and the lifting of sanctions, discussion of the possibility of Iran’s accession to the SCO was once again seriously raised. Interestingly, Russia has this time presented itself as the idea’s main supporter. However, the fact of the matter is that the Russian policy shift is more closely related to Moscow’s own situation following the 2014 Ukraine crisis than to post-sanctions Iran.

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