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    SCO does not seek enlargement - Russian diplomat

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    MOSCOW, November 28 (RIA Novosti) - The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which comprises the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan plus Russia and China, does not seek new members, Vitaly Vorobyov, the Russian president's envoy to the organization, said Monday.

    "The SCO does not seek to increase its membership and the number of observers [India, Pakistan, and Iran]," Vorobyov said in a RIA interview. "These are not its priority plans. Moreover, displaying initiative is against the organization's principles."

    Vorobyov said the six founding members made up the core of the organization, and they agreed that consolidating the core was the prime objective at the moment. Besides, the SCO is lacking relevant enlargement procedures, he added.

    Vorobyov said the organization could cooperate with non-members via observers and all kinds of contact groups. Such an arrangement "would not impede the core's consolidation," cooperation would be based on definite terms and rules and would not influence decision-making within the SCO, he added.

    The regional security forum was only founded in July 2001, but major international organizations and countries have sought cooperation with it, according to Vorobyov. "The SCO has received observer status at the UN General Assembly, signed cooperation agreements with the CIS' Executive Committee and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) already," the Russian official said.

    He said countries' and organizations' interest in the SCO was due to the principle of absolute equality and consensus, which formed the basis for its activities.

    "The consensus principle does not suggest voting," he explained. "The member-states do not start tackling and even discussing issues they do not agree on completely or if they have not reached preliminary agreement about how they should be tackled," Vorobyov said.

    In the last two or three years, the SCO has worked out "a mechanism of fitting in each other's interests and a consensus-based approach to problems," which is "the SCO's main practical result," according to the diplomat.

    "The consensus method applied within the SCO requires a lot of strain, but it helps adopt effective decisions," he said.

    The SCO, which is widely seen as a counterbalance to the United States, originally dealt with security and confidence-building issues, including border conflicts and terrorism. Today, SCO cooperation also covers the economic sphere.

    In July 2005, the organization demanded a timeframe for the withdrawal of the U.S. bases deployed in some of the member-states during the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan.

    In August, Russia and China held their first joint military exercises, Peace Mission 2005.

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