Iran looks east after China-led bloc enters

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Tehran (AFP)

Iran on Saturday hailed its acceptance into a bloc led by China and Russia, a shift towards the east it sees as opening up access to major global markets and a counterbalance to crippling Western sanctions .

Conservative and reformist newspapers showed rare unity in welcoming the results of a conference in Dushanbe on Friday in which members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization approved Iran’s future membership in the bloc.

The eight-member group, created two decades ago and which also includes India, is seen as an antidote to Western domination.

The bloc’s decision on Iran is accompanied by stalled negotiations to bring Washington back to a 2015 nuclear deal. Then President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions.

“Iran fits into the largest market in the east,” said a headline from the Javanese newspaper, calling the SCO “one of the main symbols of cooperation of non-Western powers opening the door to a post-American era “.

Kayhan, like Javan’s ultra-conservative headline, headlined his main article in large print: “Hijack Western Sanctions.”

For Kayhan, “Iran can now implement its policy of multilateralism, gradually abandon a vision based solely on the West and reduce Western sanctions.”

Etemad, a newspaper representing reformists calling for more social freedoms in the Islamic republic, expressed a view similar to that of the ultraconservatives.

He said membership in the SCO would allow Iran to “connect with markets” representing a large part of the world’s population.

Iran, one of the four observer states of the SCO, had applied for full membership in 2008, but its candidacy has been hampered by UN and US sanctions imposed on its nuclear program.

Several SCO members did not want a country under international sanctions in their ranks.

– Investment opportunity –

The 2015 deal, aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining an atomic bomb, provided economic relief in return for a sharp reduction in the country’s nuclear activities, but Trump’s withdrawal began to crumble.

Conservative and Reformist newspapers in Iran have shown rare unity in hailing results of Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference ATTA KENARE AFP

Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia remain in the deal, and US President Joe Biden has said he’s ready to join them, but talks have so far made little headway.

Iran failed to join the SCO again last year due to a refusal from Tajikistan, but on Friday it found the door wide open for membership.

For Iranian international relations expert Fayaz Zahed, Moscow and Beijing have supported Tehran’s accession because they expect the nuclear issue to be resolved.

“The SCO countries believe that Iran will respect international agreements because the sanctions have been the main obstacle to its accession” to the bloc, Zahed told AFP.

Russia, China and India are all waiting for the lifting of economic sanctions before they can invest in Iran, he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Iran’s membership was unanimously accepted.

SCO leaders, however, have not announced a timetable for Iran’s membership.

Besides Russia and China, the other founding members are the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

India and Pakistan were admitted in 2017.

Together, they make up about 40 percent of the world’s population and more than 20 percent of the world’s gross domestic product – a huge potential market for Tehran.

Iranian ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi, in his speech to the SCO, called the sanctions “economic terrorism” and “the most important tool for hegemonic powers to impose their will on others.”

Raisi, who took over from moderate Hassan Rouhani in August, added that such economic sanctions are “a major obstacle to promoting regional integration and that the SCO should design structures and mechanisms to present a collective response to them. sanctions “.

Bilateral trade between Iran and SCO member states was valued at $ 28 billion (€ 24 billion) for the Iranian year ended March 2021, according to Tehran.

China accounted for $ 18.9 billion.

But Iran sees political and economic advantages in the SCO.

“The world has entered a new era. Hegemony and unilateralism have failed,” said Raisi.

“The international balance is now leaning towards multilateralism and the redistribution of powers towards independent countries. Unilateral sanctions do not target just one country. It has become evident that, in recent years, they affect more independent countries, especially SCO members. “

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