Tehran, Iran – Iran’s bid to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was approved on Friday after nearly 15 years by the bloc’s seven permanent members.
Once the technical and legal process is completed – which could take up to two years – Iran will officially join a group that represents about a third of the world’s land and exports billions of dollars a year – as it counts China, the Russia and India, in addition to several Central Asian states, among its members.
After returning from a summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, President Ebrahim Raisi called the approval a “diplomatic achievement” which means tying Iran to Asia’s economic infrastructure and its vast resources.
In a two-day summit speech, he denounced US “unilateralism” and called for a concerted effort to fight sanctions.
President Raisi held a series of high-level bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the SCO summit. In particular, they led to the signing of eight agreements with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.
The two have set a target of $ 500 million for annual bilateral trade, which is nearly 10 times higher than current levels.
Rather than major political or economic gains, the main lessons from this short-term success for Iran might be limited to enhanced prestige and diplomacy.
The main problem with Iran’s approach to the SCO is that it sees it as a “concert of great non-Western powers” rather than a modern international organization, and sees it within an anti-Western or anti-Western framework. – American, says Hamidreza Azizi. , visiting scholar at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).
“This despite the fact that countries like Pakistan and India are close partners of the United States, and even Russia and China have never been willing to openly challenge the United States on the world stage,” Azizi told Al Jazeera.
“The combination of these two misunderstandings, as well as Iran’s self-perception as a natural hegemon in West Asia, would make it all appear to Iranian leaders like Iran joining other major anti-Western powers for form a strong coalition that will challenge American hegemony.
Azizi added that SCO members are reluctant to get involved in Iran’s rivalries, which may be why on Friday they also admitted Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt as “Dialogue partners” in a balancing act.
From a diplomatic point of view, the approval is significant.
The country had been an “observer member” since 2005.
Last month Iranian security chief Ali Shamkhani announced on Twitter that “political obstacles” to full membership had been lifted.
As well as in Farsi, he posted the message in English, Arabic and Hebrew, signaling that it was also a message for the region and the West.
Iran’s previous offers to join the SCO have been blocked because it was under United Nations sanctions, and some members, including Tajikistan, have opposed it due to Tehran’s perceived support for the Islamic Movement. Tajikistan.
Warmly welcome the decision of the SCO to approve # Iranfull member.
A major step towards strengthening ties with neighbors and an important boost for our Asian-centered foreign policy.
We will continue our efforts to take advantage of indigenous initiatives for the good of the region. pic.twitter.com/p66g5Sn0PP
– Saïd Khatibzadeh | خطیبزاده (@SKhatibzadeh) September 17, 2021
This is the first time that Iran has become a full member of a major regional bloc since its 1979 revolution, said Abas Aslani, a researcher at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran.
“Iran is subject to unilateral sanctions. This means that SCO members do not recognize them as international sanctions and that is why they accepted Iran’s full membership application, ”Aslani told Al Jazeera.
He added that Iran is considering political and economic gains, especially with China, with which Iran signed a 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement in March, and Russia, with which Iran is seeking to expand. a pre-existing cooperation agreement.
“In addition, Iran could gain significant access to the Central Asian region, which can be seen as a market for exports of Iranian products,” Aslani said, adding that only time will show how many of these potential l ‘Iran can achieve.
Aslani believes US sanctions could prove to be obstacles on the path to realizing these potentials if they persist, but will not halt Iran’s economic progress.
Iran and world powers have conducted six rounds of talks in Vienna to restore the country’s 2015 nuclear deal, which, if successful, would see US sanctions lifted.
Talks have been suspended since the end of July to allow Raisi to form his administration, but are expected to resume soon.
“If the nuclear deal is revived, it would only be a wing. The other is the growing development of ties with the East, which would occur regardless of the success of talks with the West, ”Aslani said.
“Direct marginal benefits”
The SCO, born out of the “Shanghai Five” pact of the mid-1990s, is governed by consensus, which limits the scope for major cooperation between its member states.
It also functions more as a place of discussion and engagement where high-level dignitaries from across the region can come together to confer, rather than an alliance like the EU, whose members have a common currency, or the NATO.
Iran’s bombastic accounts of ‘non-Western’ powers and organizations like the SCO in precipitating a shift in the balance of power away from the United States contradict the fact that the SCO does not have the ability to foster deeper integration between these great regional and great powers, “said Nicole Grajewski, researcher in the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
“There is no Russia-China-Iran axis with formalized alliance-like commitments, and the SCO will certainly not provide the institutional structure for such an alliance,” she said. at Al Jazeera.
Grajewski said SCO membership would provide a forum for closer engagement with the region for Iran, but it was something Tehran already enjoyed as an observer state.
She added that the volume of trade with the national currencies of Iran, Russia and China was modest even as they have been discussing de-dollarization for decades, and that they are not about to launch. an alternative financial messaging service to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. (SWIFT) global financial network.
The SCO is primarily a geopolitical and security organization with limited infrastructure to pursue economic integration and Grajewski said that “the direct economic benefits of the SCO are marginal,” but member states could seek bilateral agreements.