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Why Iran, Belarus will not join Shanghai Cooperation Organization this summer


(RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev)

Iran, Belarus and other countries expected to become full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, will not join it in the foreseeable future.

The reason is the organization's need to address economic integration of Central Asia and creation of a common sphere of humanitarian regional cooperation. This was evident from the meeting of SCO foreign ministers' council, held in Shanghai a month before its anniversary summit. The SCO will celebrate its 5th anniversary simultaneously with the 10th anniversary of its predecessor, annual summits on common border security.

It was the anniversary that prompted SCO member states to realize that without clearly defined borders of the region, the organization will fall into a crisis, when geopolitical games hinder its real efficiency.

The ministers' meeting was a working one, and no sensations were expected. Activities of the SCO as an international organization are increasingly divided into many separate topics and programs, carried out by defense ministries, culture and education ministries, economic ministries, and so on. The six foreign ministries unite all this work in a single system and also support the order in the SCO structure. Apparently, they sense a dangerous tension in its structure. Six SCO member states do not have time to deal with the increasing number of new initiatives that flood the organization and its staff, so now everything superfluous should be discarded. First of all, they will block indefinitely accession of any new members.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomar Tokayev, who opened the meeting, announced immediately after the traditional welcoming statement that his country believed that the organization should temporarily refrain from enlarging.

Almost all of his counterparts later repeated the words.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there were several forms that the SCO could use to interact with other nations: Afghanistan, for instance, attends some events as a guest. All this means that the SCO does not even have time to establish a system of work with observers and other partners, but is now faced with the prospect of increasing the number of its full-fledged members, which have their own, often purely political, games.

Today the SCO comprises Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Iran are observers. The latter three received the status just a year ago.

At that time, political scientists that were not well informed on the true workings of the organization jubilated at its success: after all, everyone with serious interests in Central Asia was shifting towards the SCO. Sum up the population of these countries, and you will get an incredible publicity effect.

What has happened? For obvious reasons, everyone was interested whether Iran would be accepted as a member this summer. The answer in Shanghai was a clear no. Neither Iran with its complicated relations with the U.S. and the IAEA, nor European Belarus, nor Pakistan with its attempts to find new friends in the wake of the ongoing Indian-American rapprochement, none of them will join the SCO now.

The reason is not so much the lack of understanding - and documents - of what new members will bring the SCO. Is it necessary to review, for instance, their agreements and treaties with other nations?

The problem is that there is too much politics and too many words and general declarations around the SCO. New members mean new declarations. According to available information, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will attend the forthcoming summit in Shanghai, was asked to speak not so much of America and Israel as of Iran's role as the region's economic partner.

Economy is the key, the essence of existence. In short, the SCO envisages security guarantees plus economic and social development of Central Asia. That's all.

Answering my question, Tokayev said, "As to economy, we believe that it is a priority for the SCO. We, as a transit state, believe that a crucial role in economic cooperation belongs to the development of large transportation and communications projects, as well as energy projects. Pipeline polices are very important. The program of economic cooperation was endorsed in Bishkek in September 2003."

His mentioning the Bishkek plan, which is almost 3 years old, is absolutely typical. As are numerous allusions of his Tajik counterpart Talpak Nazarov to the forthcoming meeting of SCO prime ministers in Dushanbe in September. It is there that SCO pilot projects are to appear and the key - economic - area of cooperation to be made clear.

Consequently, an important event for the June summit will be the first meeting of the SCO Business Council, a club of the region's businessmen. By the way, it is ready to welcome colleagues from observers and partners. The goal is simple: to encourage investment in regional projects. To achieve it, an inter-bank agreement within the SCO has been drafted. This means that as soon as business circles outline a project, there will be money to finance it.

Also, concepts are to be proposed on developing the system of contacts between regional scientists, students and journalists.

Another interesting initiative is the transformation of the SCO executive secretary into secretary general. This is no wordplay, but the delegation of significant powers to the Beijing-based body. The incumbent secretary, Chinese Zhang Deguang, who has held the position for three years, is expected to be succeeded by Kazakh diplomat, now ambassador to Tokyo, Bulat Nurgaliyev. So the SCO is in for reforms, seeking to make it not so much spectacular as efficient.

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