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    SCO Summit Finishes in Bishkek With Iran Unexpectedly Taking Centre Stage

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    Denis Bolotsky
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    Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek hosted a two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting with the heads of the 8 SCO member states and observer nations discussing a regional agenda and bilateral relations.

    If you talk to locals in Bishkek, you’d notice that for many of them this year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting is the biggest event of the year. Many roads within the capital region have been re-paved, at least one of them, as one driver told me – overnight. Major streets in Bishkek were decorated with floral compositions ahead of the event. Police even got themselves brand-new “toys”.

    ​A building resembling a traditional Kyrgyz yurt has been constructed for the media at the Ala-Archa residence in the foothills of Ala-Too mountains, where the heads of the 8 Shanghai Cooperation Organisation member states and observer nations held their meetings on Thursday and Friday.

    Despite the fact that most of the negotiations took place outside the capital, many side-streets in central Bishkek were cordoned off during the arrival of delegations, which led to heavy traffic jams. Central avenues, though, were not as congested.

    Upon his arrival in Bishkek on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Even though there wasn’t much on the official agenda during the first day of the summit, Putin and other heads of state talked to each other informally during a gala concert and dinner.

    India and Pakistan joined the bloc two years ago. New Delhi and Islamabad see big potential in their membership, as, according to some observers, it may help both countries to de-escalate tensions.

    ​Some of SCO’s geography can be easily recognised in the media centre's catering menu. Even though most dishes served to journalists were Pan-European, some were clearly from SCO member nations’ cuisines.

    ​Even though the summit’s “political menu” was scripted and written well in advance of the event, the real agenda was heavily dominated by current affairs, with Iran – an SCO observer-member state, taking the stage after recent tanker incidents near the Strait of Hormuz.

    With SCO being among other things a security-related bloc, Rouhani’s concerns are likely to be heard by elites in powerful member states in countries with a total population of over 3.5 billion. It puts Trump in an uneasy situation – isolated from the decision-making process in such an important regional political club. 

    ​And even though, some SCO members, such as India, are distancing themselves from openly aligning with Tehran, other countries, like Russia and China would probably be on the same page with Rouhani economically when it comes to countering Trump's protectionist policies and tariff wars. Iran is well aware of the latter, so the heavy anti-US rhetoric is not the only thing that Hassan Rouhani brought to the table in Bishkek. Speaking at the leaders’ meeting, he also offered preferential treatment for all companies and entrepreneurs from SCO countries entering the Iranian market.

    SCO leaders signed the Bishkek Declaration, which lays out the bloc’s strategy for years to come. Besides this, member states agreed upon anti-terrorism, anti-drug, digital development policies, and issues, such as media cooperation.

    The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was formed in 2001 by 6 nations – Russia, Kyrgyzstan, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan became full members in during the 2017 SCO summit in Astana. Among the bloc’s current partners and observers, among other nations, are Iran, Turkey, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, and Nepal.

    Last year the meeting of SCO leaders took place in China’s Qingdao, and next year’s presidency goes over to Russia, with the city of Chelyabinsk picked to host both 2019 BRICS and SCO summits.

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    Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek
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