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SCO Knocks Out Iranian Aspirations Using Technicality

No victory for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad this time as Iran's SCO bid hits a wall.
No victory for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad this time as Iran's SCO bid hits a wall.
Looks like Iran is not joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) any time soon despite requesting membership in the group since 2005. And Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad appears not to be taking the news very well. For the first time since 2006, he will not be attending the annual summit now taking place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Iran is one of four countries (the others are India, Pakistan, and Mongolia) seeking membership in the SCO, which groups Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The organization has avoided seriously considering any of the membership bids for years on the grounds that there was no mechanism for admitting new members.

But the SCO promised the day would come when that mechanism was in place and new countries would join. The Tashkent summit was supposed to be the first time the SCO revealed how new members could be admitted.

Unfortunately for Iran, Russian media reported just ahead of the summit's opening that one criterion for membership bars Iran from joining. The Russian newspaper "Kommersant" is one of those sources, reporting on June 10 that "there is a clause in the document stating that membership is to be denied countries the UN imposed sanctions against."

SCO members have always publicly voiced support for Iran's desire to join the group, but they must have considered Iran to be too hot to handle. The SCO charter has a clause on mutual defense that obligates members to come to the aid of another member that has come under attack. In Iran's case, that could have meant the SCO would be obligated to help Tehran if the United States were to attack Iran. And now the SCO has an official reason to delay granting full membership to Iran.

Ahmadinejad's decision not to attend is likely Iran's response to the SCO move. Officially the Iranian president has pressing business in Shanghai, but anyone who remembers last year's SCO summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia would also remember that Ahmadinejad attended despite there being widespread and violent protests in his country in the wake of Iran's presidential elections.