21st SCO Summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. (Photo credit: Anadolu Agency)
On 17 September, member nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) approved Iran’s permanent membership to the political, economic, and security alliance.
The decision was announced as the 21st SCO summit opened in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is leading a high-level delegation on his first foreign trip since taking office.
Raisi thanked the SCO member nations for allowing Iran’s ascension to the group while also expressing hope that the SCO will become “a driving force of global multilateralism.”
“Today, world peace and security are threatened by hegemony and challenges such as terrorism, extremism, and separatism,” Raisi said. “Maintaining and strengthening peace across Asia is not a choice but a necessity.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian took to Twitter to praise the announcement, saying the “strategic membership” will have an “important impact on the process of Iran’s comprehensive cooperation in line with its neighborhood and Asia-centered policy.”
با کمال خرسندی اکنون سند عضویت دائم ج. ا. ایران در سازمان همکاری شانگهای در شهر دوشنبه با حضور رییس جمهور محترم کشورمان به تاييد سران رسید. این عضویت راهبردی تاثیر مهمی بر روند همکاری های همه جانبه ایران در راستای سیاست همسایگی و آسیا محور دارد.
— H.Amirabdollahian امیرعبداللهیان (@Amirabdolahian) September 17, 2021
The SCO is the largest regional organization in the world, covering three-fifths of the Eurasian continent and nearly half of the entire human population. Its member states include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, and now Iran.
Iran initially acquired observer status in the alliance back 2005. But it took more than 15 years for the endorsement of its permanent membership, which came with the help of Russia.
In a speech via videoconference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “We always support Iran’s full participation in the activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization because Iran has played an important role in the Eurasian region and has a long-term positive cooperation with this organization.”
Raisi and Putin were expected to meet on the sidelines of the summit but this had to be canceled after the Russian head of state went into quarantine as fresh cases of COVID-19 were identified in his inner circle.
Experts believe that Iran’s entry to the SCO will improve the nation’s geopolitical standing in the region, as the Islamic Republic now has veto power to prevent any new memberships to the alliance.
This means that its neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, will have to seek Iranian consent before joining the SCO. These countries may not, however, be considering SCO membership any time soon, due to their strong security partnerships with the United States.
But following the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, there have been signs that Riyadh is thinking twice before continuing to rely on Washington to maintain its security, as a rift has formed in recent weeks between the two historic allies.
The Iranian delegation has already held several high-level meetings with fellow SCO members and observers. In particular, President Ebrahim Raisi spoke with his Pakistani counterpart, Prime Minister Imran Khan, with both leaders agreeing to take urgent steps to stabilize Afghanistan’s security, humanitarian and economic situation, following the Taliban’s takeover of the country last month.
“The SCO has done well in meeting old and new challenges, but the growing complexity of the global environment and geopolitical tensions will be a test of our resolve in the future,” Khan said during his speech at the summit.
The Iranian President also held talks with the heads of state of Armenia and Turkmenistan, agreeing to deepen bilateral cooperation and trade with both nations.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and both diplomats agreed that bilateral relations between Tehran and Beijing have maintained a positive momentum of development with intensive communication at all levels.
FM Wang Yi said China firmly supports Iran in opposing hegemony, and in safeguarding its sovereignty, dignity, and its legitimate rights and interests. He said that China is willing to work with Iran to jointly expand the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) mega-infrastructure project.
The Chinese diplomat also said that his country will help keep negotiations on Tehran’s return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) moving “in the right direction,” and that China will continue to promote the establishment of an inclusive political structure in Afghanistan, while taking “concrete actions to combat all forms of terrorism.”