With international sanctions lifted, Iran is ready to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, senior Iranian officials said Monday.
Iran applied for full membership in the SCO in 2008, but has been blocked by rules in the organization's charter that forbid membership for any country under United Nations sanctions. Those sanctions were lifted on Saturday as a result of Tehran's compliance with its nuclear deal with world powers including the United States, China, and Russia.
The organization has been eager to get Iran on board. "The organization wishes success to Iran in the finalization of efforts related to the nuclear program so that the essential legal procedures leading up to the lifting of sanctions were implemented as soon as possible," said SCO Secretary General Dmitry Mezentsev last month. "I'd like to believe the SCO will take up Iran's request for the status of a full member immediately after that."
And with the sanctions lifted, Iranian officials said that among their priorities would be gaining full SCO membership.
"The lifting of sanctions opens for Iran the opportunity to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and eliminates other limitations, which the Islamic Republic has been facing in the regional foreign policy," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari told a press conference on Monday.
"For several years Iran has been an observer state in the SCO and is interested in strengthening that organization. The removal of sanctions creates new possibilities for acquiring full membership for Iran in the SCO," wrote Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Sanai, on his blog.
The SCO includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan began the accession to full membership last year. The organization still has a somewhat unclear purpose; China (the dominant member) seems to be orienting it towards a forum for development and a tool for giving a multilateral appearance to its endeavors in Central Asia. Russia, however, sees it more in ideological terms, as a means of weakening Western global hegemomy by creating a sort of anti-Western club. Sanai has endorsed the latter idea.
"The conception of the SCO corresponds with Iran's point of view on the issues of the regional and world order. Iran in its foreign policy is governed by two fundamental principles," he said in an interview with a Russian newspaper last year. "Firstly, Iran doesn't accept the idea of a unipolar world. Secondly, Iran is against any interference by outside powers in the affairs of the region. Regional problems should be dealt with by countries of the corresponding region. The essence and structure of the SCO fully correspond to these principles."
The addition of India and Pakistan to the SCO is likely to blunt the organization's anti-Western edge. What effect Iran may have, given how in flux its status is vis-a-vis the West, remains to be seen. The next summit is scheduled for this summer in Tashkent.