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    On Friday, India and Pakistan were formally inducted as the newest members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the first-ever expansion of the six-member group. Russia actively backs Iran's membership in the block. Sputnik interviewed a number of experts, who explained why the organization and Iran, in fact, need each other.

    India and Pakistan have been formally inducted as the newest members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at the annual summit of the block, which wrapped up on Friday in Astana, Kazakhstan.

    The SCO is a political, military and economic alliance between Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

    Belarus, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan hold observer status in the organization, while Azerbaijan,
    Cambodia, Armenia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka hold the status of dialogue partners.

    Russia also backs Tehran's bid for permanent membership in the block. Russian and Iranian experts, interviewed by Sputnik Persian, noted that SCO is a unique platform for mutually beneficial balances. The integration of such a strong regional player as Iran opens vast prospects for better security for both. Both Tehran and the SCO could collectively stand up to existing threats in the best interests of peace and development, not only in the region but far beyond the territory of the SCO.

    Alexander Sharov, Deputy Head of Iranian Department at SCO Business Club, CEO of GK "RusIranEkspo" and "Khimtrans" told Sputnik that Iran has been knocking at the SCO's door for a long time.

    "Iran applied for membership in the SCO back in 2011 when it was very eager to become a full-fledged member of this organization. But then there were hurdles over the anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by UN and a number of preconditions put forward by other member states. Apart from Russia and China, there are other members and there is a need for a collective decision on the issue," he told Sputnik.

    Back in 2012, he said, the SCO opened its Business Club in Tehran, which has proven to be a success. However Iran's interest has noticeably cooled down since then, he said. Additionally, the country had certain hopes for President Rouhani, who wanted to plug Iran into the western globalization process.

    However, Iran now sees for itself, the expert said, that the West – is a closed system which does not accept any newcomers, neither on its merits nor the size of its assets, nor on any other ground.

    Thus Iran is turning back to the SCO once again, as well as to other organizations in Eurasia, he said.

    China also supports Iran's membership in the SCO, and when Tehran becomes a permanent member of the block, it will open up large opportunities for the transport logistics of China's New Silk Road project, as well as other transport routes, such as the North-South Transport Corridor from India into Russia and further into Europe.

    It will also provide new opportunities for security, Sharov said. There are threats which are common for all the members of the organization, such as terrorism. By uniting efforts, all the member states could stop this threat, which is coming from the Middle East.

    Meanwhile, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communication Technology Mahmoud Vaezi voiced Iran's interest in the organization. During the 21st St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2017) he said that Iran is able to play a more effective role in the SCO.

    Dr. Mahmoud Shuri, senior researcher at the Department of Russian studies at the Institute for the study of Iran and Eurasia (IRAS), a member of the Scientific Council of the Institute also thinks that Iran's integration within a regional alliance of such strong countries, can become a guarantor of stability and security in the region.

    "There has been a long discussion on Iran's full-fledged membership in the SCO. Tehran's application has not been considered due to certain reasons. Nonetheless, last year it was announced that when the process of accession of India and Pakistan is over, it will be Iran's turn," Dr Mahmoud Shuri told Sputnik.

    Iran's accession to the SCO will become a guarantor of the stability and security of the member states of the organization, he said. Iran has a profound experience in the fight against terrorism and is able to help the SCO member states increase security in their countries. Iran, in turn, will be able to expand its cooperation with such strong member states as Russia and China, the expert said.

    Meanwhile, Sputnik China interviewed a number of experts on China's support of the Iranian bid.

    Russian political analyst and head of the Middle East-Caucasus think-tank Stanislav Tarasov noted that Beijing decided to activate its support of Tehran in the wake of the recent One Belt, One Road Forum in China, which was marred by a high-profile boycott by India.

    Iran, however, is also becoming a zone of increased risk for the One Belt, One Road project, the expert said.

    "Iran might also fall out of the project due to the aggravation of the situation in the region, while the US has appointed it as its major enemy. It means that Iran has all the chances to turn into a potential battlefield, into a potential destabilization zone," he told Sputnik.

    It is highly risky to invest in such a zone, he further noted. China will be unable to solve Iran's problem on its own, without any support, hence SCO authority becomes a great opportunity to maintain stability in the Middle East.

    Beijing, Tarasov said, will try to exploit the SCO format in its geopolitical interests and for the practical implementation of its global One Belt, One Road project.

    The SCO will get a very serious regional player with huge potential, the expert said. China will lobby its interests in the SCO while strengthening its influence in the Middle East.  Iran, in turn, will get Russia and China as its main supporters but will continue playing its own card, given certain nuances in the  Russian-Iranian relationship.

    Thus, the expert said, Russia should come up with such a diplomatic move to be able to convert its traditional ties with Iran into the expanded trade-economic cooperation and additional investments from Iran through the SCO.

    Irina Fedorova, a senior analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Center for Middle Eastern and Oriental Studies noted to Sputnik that even though Russia and China are interested in Iran's membership in the SCO, the bid might face certain hurdles.

    "The fact of the matter is whether Russia and China have enough influence on the permanent members of the SCO," she said.

    The expert further elaborated that another member of the organization, Tajikistan, is being greatly influenced by Saudi Arabia. Tajik authorities repeatedly voiced their rejection of Iran's growing cultural influence on their country and called for the restriction of the activities of  Iran's numerous religious centers operating in Tajikistan.

    The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, which is banned in Tajikistan, she said, has recently been invited to Iran to the meeting of the leaders of the Islamic state, which has caused sharp discontent in Tajikistan, the expert noted.

    Iran, Fedorova said, has certain discrepancies not only with Tajikistan, but with Pakistan as well.  Iran thinks Pakistan is not very active in fighting against Baluchi militants' organizations which are operating in both countries. Their terrorist attacks constantly mar the bilateral relations between the two countries, the expert said.

    Thus Iran, she suggested, would be interested in China using its influence in setting relations between the two countries, but China's abilities are not limitless, she said.

    Meanwhile Ji Kaiyun, an expert at the Center for Iranian Studies at the Chinese Southwest University, noted that Iran is located between Western, Southern and Central Asia and serves as a bridge between Asia and Europe, along China's projected New Silk Route.

    Thus Iran's accession into the SCO can strengthen ties between Central and Western Asia and connect the ground and naval routes of the New Silk Route.

    Besides, the expert said, Iran is part of the Islamic world and has a very strong language and culture. For the last 30 years it remains the most secure and stable country in the Middle East. Additionally it is the closest neighbor of Afghanistan, one of the major sources of drug production and drug trafficking in the world.

    Its accession to the SCO will play an irreplaceable role in the fight against drug production and drug trafficking and in combatting terrorism, separatism and extremism, the expert said.

    Iran's membership in the SCO will contribute to creation of a communicative line between Southern and Western Asia, he said, in the creation of the infrastructure of the New Silk Route.  Which will bring high dividends both to Iran and SCO member states, he concluded. 

    Tags:
    security, membership, accession, summit, One Belt, One Road, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Astana, Kazakhstan, Iran
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