The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is seriously mulling whether to extend full membership in the security group to Iran, according to a February 17 report distributed by the official Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Full membership would provide Tehran with a mutual assistance guarantee in the event that it came under attack by a foreign state.
Iran currently has observer status within the six-member SCO. The existing full members are Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
"Consideration of Tehran's bid is moving ahead in accordance with standard procedures. I think a decision on the issue could be announced at a SCO summit in Yekaterinburg [Russia] in June," a SCO source in Beijing told RIA Novosti.
The report added that the SCO is seen as a potential counterweight to NATO in Central Asia. Iran formally sought full SCO membership in early 2008, but member states have been reluctant to act on the application, due mainly to the international crisis relating to Tehran's nuclear program. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
On February 16, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told RIA Novosti he hoped Russia's chairing of the organization would speed up Iran's accession. "Iran has officially addressed SCO members and expects its observer status to be finally upgraded to full membership during Russia's chairmanship period," he said.
Both Russia and China could benefit from Iran's membership. Russia could sell Tehran weapons and China is keen to secure gas exports, RIA Novosti added. Mongolia, India and Pakistan also currently have observer status within the SCO.