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Rush demand for Shanghai Cooperation Organization

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev) - The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has held its seventh summit in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

It clearly demonstrated the SCO's awareness that the time of closed blocs is over, and the 21st century is an era of cooperation. It also showed that the SCO is working hard to find its way in an avalanche of ideas about its development path and format.

The SCO is a regional group comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia as observers.

Two of the eight key documents adopted at the Bishkek summit - the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, and the Bishkek Declaration - indicate the high degree of cooperation between the member states. Both documents incorporate a crucial principle, which keeps the organization together - the principle of equality and respect for partners and their interests.

In the case of SCO and its sister organization, ASEAN, this principle means that each of the six member countries addresses issues of domestic policy and chooses partners outside the SCO as it sees fit.

For example, Tajikistan may refuse to maintain energy cooperation with Russia and choose Iranian or French investors instead, yet participate in all other SCO projects of its choice.

Russia has made investment offers to Kyrgyzstan worth $2 billion, but nobody will lift a finger to stop the United States from investing in that Central Asian country.

In theory, this format looks like a poor cover for disintegration. But in practice it keeps together six very different countries, which have complicated, and sometimes tense, relations with each other. But they know also that they have more interests and projects in common, and will have many more in future.

Most importantly, they have common security, as "attempts to address global and regional problems single-handed cannot succeed," Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the SCO summit.

The summit in Bishkek spotlighted security threats coming from Afghanistan following the unsuccessful military operation of the United States and NATO. The SCO countries will have to address these problems now jointly with the authorities of Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose representatives attended the summit.

The SCO documents reflect this growing common mentality. These documents, as well as speeches made by summit participants in public and at closed meetings, show that the SCO member states, their neighbors and other countries really need the organization.

A priority goal now is "to formulate a legislation for promoting contacts with observer states," Putin said at the summit.

Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar said at an extended meeting in Bishkek: "We hope that after the revision of the document on the status of observer countries and the adoption of a plan of cooperation with them ... new possibilities will be created for involving observer countries in the SCO's activities."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that he had proposed a meeting of energy ministers in Iran, but it did not take place although there were no political obstacles to it.

The observer countries have not rebelled yet, but they are clearly displeased with SCO's slow progress.

The summit began with a closed meeting of the member states. After it, the leaders of Iran, Turkmenistan and Mongolia attended their extended meeting. Was this a one-off decision or a tendency?

At their summit last year, the six member states decided to place a temporary ban on the admission of new members, although many countries were willing to join. The member states argued that the organization was established to serve the interests of Central Asian countries, and that Turkmenistan was the only regional country not represented in it.

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov attended this year's summit. Turkmenistan may not join the organization yet, but it has made the first step out of its self-imposed isolation. If it expressed the desire to join, its request will be most definitely honored.

The SCO member states clearly need the services offered by their organization. Kazakhstan has proposed establishing an oil and gas regulator and exchange. Russia believes that the SCO needs a proactive center to deal with natural disasters and other emergencies.

There are many ideas and plans on the organization's agenda, and it will be very difficult to implement all of them.

However, the regional and global political realities are encouraging the SCO to open up to cooperation with other countries. Established after the Cold War, it does not want to develop as a closed bloc, but is ready to work with any country willing to cooperate with its member states.

Although some people argue that the SCO was set up as a counterweight to U.S. influence in Central Asia, it never posed as such. The United States is cooperating with nearly all of the SCO members, and this does not worry anyone.

Moreover, the United States has made the first contact with the SCO.

Lynn Pascoe, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, attended the Bishkek summit. Although he no longer serves at the U.S. State Department but is a UN official, he is still an American diplomat, and a good one at that.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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