The foreign ministers of the six member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are due today to conclude a two-day meeting in Tashkent called to review the progress made in implementing agreements concluded during the organization's May summit in Moscow.
Prague, 5 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) consists of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The seven-year-old group, founded to resolve disputes along the former China-Soviet border, has broadened its focus in recent years to encompass joint actions against terrorism, separatism, and drug trafficking.
Responding to mounting concerns about terrorism, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov last year announced the creation of a regional antiterrorism agency that would be part of the SCO. This week's meeting in Tashkent of the SCO foreign ministers was expected to include a discussion of joint antiterror efforts as well as the inauguration of the regional antiterrorism agency announced by Ivanov.
The so-called SCO Regional Antiterrorism Structure is to be based in the Uzbek capital. SCO member states had agreed at a May summit in Moscow that the center would be located in Bishkek. But Russian President Vladimir Putin on 6 August accepted a proposal by Uzbek President Islam Karimov to make Tashkent the base of the antiterrorism structure. According to a report by the official Kyrgyz news agency, kabar.kg, Bishkek has accepted the change of locale, thus removing a possible area of contention between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan at this week's SCO meeting.
Alex Vatanka is editor of "Jane's Sentinel: Russia and the CIS," a security-assessment publication based in London. He says the switch from Bishkek to Tashkent reflects Putin's desire for closer ties between Russia and Uzbekistan.
"The decision by the Russians to back Tashkent as the headquarters for the antiterrorism center is significant and underscores the value which Moscow increasingly attaches to good bilateral relations with Uzbekistan. History is therefore likely to recall the Samarkand meeting [in August] between Putin and Karimov as a turnaround," Vatanka says.
This week's meeting was expected to coordinate the SCO's approach to a number of international policy issues ahead of the 58th session of the UN General Assembly later this month. In a communique adopted at the end of its early session today, the SCO foreign ministers expressed readiness to make a contribution to Iraq's postwar reconstruction. But they also called for the United Nations to play an enhanced role in the country's political re-development. In the communique, the ministers also welcomed last week's six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear program, and voiced support for the stabilization efforts of Afghanistan's transitional government.
The SCO ministers also called for the development of an international strategy, under the UN, to fight illegal drug-trafficking from Afghanistan. Antiterrorism efforts were also expected to figure high on the agenda at the SCO meeting. But several Uzbek analysts like Sergei Ezhkov believe economic questions should be given equal time. "For Uzbekistan, economic cooperation with SCO partners is more important," Ezhkov says.
Political scientist Davlat Alimjanov added that major trade barriers continue to hinder economic relations between the SCO members: "The customs issue [is very important for SCO]. This issue has been a big problem for the ex-Soviet republics. They tried to create several organizations to solve this problem but all agreements remain on paper. I think the SCO Tashkent meeting will bring some progress in this matter."
The subject of SCO enlargement was not expected to figure in the agenda of this week's meeting. Several countries, including India and Pakistan, had taken steps to explore possible membership in the regional group. But a source at the Russian Foreign Ministry told the Interfax news agency that the SCO "has not received any official admission inquiries from any country." The source added that the SCO is "an absolutely open organization and does not intend to shut out other countries, international organizations, or regional organizations."
(Gulnoza Saidazimova of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)