Iran Again Fails to Secure Shanghai Cooperation Organization Membership

Iran Again Fails to Secure Shanghai Cooperation Organization Membership

For several years, Iranian officials have sought to strengthen their ties with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Iran became a formal observer nation at the July 2005 SCO summit, but the country's leaders have continued to pursue full membership. In April 2007, the Iranian Foreign Ministry submitted an official application to this effect. Even before the seventh annual SCO summit convened in Bishkek on Aug. 16, however, the existing SCO full members announced that they would indefinitely postpone accepting new members.

In the case of the SCO, a primary Iranian objective has been to keep other Eurasian countries from aligning themselves with U.S efforts to isolate Iran or pressure Tehran to change its policies. At the June 2006 Shanghai summit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attending the annual gathering for the first time, called for transforming the SCO into "a strong, influential institution" that could repel "threats of domineering powers to interfere in the affairs of other states."

Whatever its other economic, political, and security benefits, becoming a full SCO member would help Iran counter the U.S.-led strategy to isolate Tehran to compel the regime curb its nuclear energy program. Many in Washington suspect that Iranian leaders, despite their protestations, are pursuing the capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons. In response, Tehran has sought to cultivate ties with the SCO's Central Asian governments to discourage them from granting the U.S. military access to their territory, airspace, or military facilities in the event that Washington decided to pursue a military option regarding Iran.

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