The Shanghai Cooperation Organization's (SCO) annual summit, held on June 16 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, was intended to focus on the global financial crisis and security issues.
The presidents of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan also sought to focus on the need for an alternative to the U.S. dollar, a $10 billion credit line offered by China to the grouping's Central Asian members, and unity in combating regional terrorism.
But it was the SCO's observer nations that stole the spotlight, with Iran's president making his first trip abroad since his controversial reelection and the Indian and Pakistani leaders meeting for the first time since the terrorist attack in Mumbai in November.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's appearance had been in doubt as late as one day before the summit, owing to the growing demonstrations in Iran against his reelection in a June 12 vote.
But he received a warm welcome from the SCO presidents, who congratulated him on his victory and stood with him for photographs.
In addressing the summit, Ahmadinejad offered proposals geared toward positioning the SCO to deal with regional and global issues.
Among his suggestions were mutual respect in international relations; dialogue on economic, cultural, and security problems; the founding of an SCO bank and the eventual introduction of a common SCO currency; and the establishment of political and economic committees aimed at studying global development and forging regional unity.
Ahmadinejad also said there was little that could be done to lessen the effects of the current crisis.
"Whether we want it or not, we live in and integrated world," he said. "A development in any part or country will quickly be reflected across the world, and influences everybody."
South Asian Talks
On the sidelines of the summit, a meeting between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was closely watched.
Neither country has gained full SCO membership despite numerous appeals for such status, but the meeting between Zardari and Singh was nevertheless one of the most anticipated moments of the summit.
This is because it marked the first meeting between the countries' leaders since coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India, in November left 166 people dead. India said the terrorists trained and planned the attack from Pakistan.
Singh greeted Zardari by saying he was "happy" to meet with the Pakistani leader, but quickly added that "my mandate is to tell you that the territory of Pakistan must not be used for terrorism against India."
Singh and Zardari quickly exited after the Indian prime minister's remarks to continue their discussions in private. Later, Pakistani officials said the two leaders would hold a follow-up meeting in mid-July at a Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Egypt.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has been a regular participant at these summits for years, received the usual pledges of help in combating the drug trade in Afghanistan, which affects all the SCO countries, and moral support for bringing stability to the country.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described SCO dialogue partner Afghanistan as a "center of attention" at the summit, while adding that security in the broader region was addressed.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev said the situation is such that constant efforts are needed to stem terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking. Bakiev offered his country's capital as a venue to solve those problems.
"The Kyrgyz Republic proposes that Bishkek be the site of a full time international conference on questions of security and stability in the Central Asian region," Bakiev said.
Chinese President Hu Jintao offered Central Asian states $10 billion in credit support so "the Shanghai Cooperation Organization members can make their own efforts in countering the shock of the international financial crisis."
Weaning Off The Dollar
All of the SCO members agreed there was too much dependence on the U.S. dollar in international trade.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has been proposing the creation of a single international currency. But Russian President Medvedev said SCO members discussed a slightly different idea.
"We also put forward the idea, which is supported by our colleagues, of using a kind of a unit of account within the SCO. In the future such a unit could also perform more serious functions,” Medvedev said. “Let us recall the ECU [European currency unit], which was not precisely a supranational currency but served as a monetary unit, as a unit of account in European Community countries before the introduction of the euro as the main reserve currency."
For his part, Ahmadinejad touted the need for an alternative to the U.S. dollar by saying: "America is enveloped in economic and political crises, and there is no hope for their resolution."
He also said that "the age of empires has ended.”
SCO leaders later tempered Ahmadinejad's criticism of the United States by acknowledging Washington’s role in nuclear nonproliferation efforts, something all the SCO leaders supported at the summit -- while singling out North Korea, but not Iran.
In the course of the SCO meetings, Belarus and Sri Lanka sought to join Iran, India, Pakistan, and Mongolia as observer-status SCO members. However, the two countries were given only the designation of dialogue partners, the same status enjoyed by Afghanistan.
At the end of the summit it was announced that next year's SCO summit would be held in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.