MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - Iran is no longer satisfied with its observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
It hopes that becoming a full member will help it avoid international isolation.
On March 24 in Tajikistan, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said that Iran had submitted an official request for full membership to the SCO Secretariat. According to the minister, Tajikistan supports Iran's request.
The SCO is an intergovernmental security organization founded in 2001. Russia, Tajikistan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan are full members and Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia have observer status. Proceeding from economic activity and feasibility, Iran has enough reasons to become a full member of the organization. It is one of the key economic players in Greater Central Asia, the organization's zone of operation, where the United States is trying to strengthen its position to Moscow's displeasure.
Iran is involved in the construction of two tunnels and the Sangtudin and Shurab hydropower plants in Tajikistan, the largest power plants in the region. It is contributing to the construction of a railroad that will link Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran, and has also been entrusted to establish free economic zones in Tajikistan.
Additionally, Iran is working hard to get a foothold in the markets of other Central Asian republics, such as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
Afghanistan deserves a special mention in this connection. The United States presents Afghanistan as the core of the Greater Central Asia and is trying to harness the other regional countries to it, which calls for tearing them away from Moscow. At the same time, the Kremlin is trying hard to find ways to involve Afghanistan in the SCO, but so far unsuccessfully. But Iran has firm economic, cultural and political positions in Afghanistan that are traditionally stronger than the positions of the other SCO member states.
All this notwithstanding, Iran has so far failed to become a full member of the organization because of its nuclear problem.
At the August 2007 SCO Summit in Bishkek, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said that the SCO countries "have come to a decision on the expediency of reaffirming the moratorium on expanding its membership." The statement was designed above all for Iran.
Tehran is a smart master of quiet moves, such as the official request for full SCO membership. This will become a new headache for the SCO founding fathers and its main controllers - Moscow and Beijing, who will have to give an official reply to Iran's official request.
China is also the most ardent opponent of Iran in the organization.
It is one thing for an expert to say that Iran will need to settle its problems with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the West before getting the right to join the SCO, as this organization does not want confrontation with the U.S and Europe. And it is quite another thing for the heads of SCO member states to say this openly at the SCO summit in Dushanbe in late summer.
Iran is unlikely to settle all its problems with the IAEA by that time. Although there are only a few of them, they are of major importance and concern the testimony of Iranian nuclear physicists requested by the IAEA. They apparently have much to say to the organization, and so Tehran's refusal to let them speak does not point to a readiness to honor IAEA's demands.
Washington has hinted that if Iran fails to honor the UN Security Council resolution and answer all of the IAEA questions to its nuclear program, it will most definitely push itself into international isolation.
The triangle of Iran, the IAEA and the Security Council is falling apart, but no one can say now which of the sides will benefit from it.
Full membership in the SCO would give Iran a chance for economic and political survival. For example, the United States and Europe might refrain from open confrontation with the SCO if Iran as a full member refuses to curtail its uranium enrichment program.
For Iran's dream to come true, Moscow and Beijing must come to terms on lifting the moratorium on expanding the organization's membership. This decision (if at all possible) would entail a number of other mutual concessions, such as full membership for Beijing's protege, Pakistan, or Moscow's offer of joint Russian-Iranian control over uranium enrichment.
In short, bargaining is quite possible, which is why all parties concerned have limited themselves to general words when speaking about Iran's request.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.