Iran, Eurasian Axis and Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Interview with Dr. Mahmoud Vaezi

Iran and Eurasia Research Center: The 12th summit meeting of the member states of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was held in Beijing at a time that political developments in the Middle East, including the situation in Syria and threats resulting from proposed deployment of NATO missile shield have brought China and Russia closer together. In addition, we must also take note of recent remarks made by the new Russian President Vladimir Putin who put emphasis on the need to bolster the Eurasian axis. He also highlighted the strong role of that axis in Moscow’s future foreign policy approaches. In view of the above developments, some analysts maintain that the next few years will be a good opportunity to bolster Iran's participation in Eurasian axis, including the most important regional organization in this axis, namely, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In the following interview, Iran and Eurasia Research Center (IRAS) has discussed this issue as well as the exact regional standing of the SCO and Iran's status in that organization with Dr. Mahmoud Vaezi, the Vice President for Foreign Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic Research.

Q: Dr. Vaezi, what is your opinion about many years of interactions between Iran and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization? What position do you think that the SCO has in Iran's foreign policy?

A: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as a nascent regional organization, is still going through early stages of its growth and has gone through many ups and downs so far. The organization was originally established to settle border disputes among member states, but as their cooperation expanded, security, political and economic issues also came into the organization’s focus. Although Iran does not have many security commonalties with other member states, it is still located in the same geographical region and can be affected by decisions and measures taken by the organization. Therefore, Tehran has been willing to have the greatest possible impact on the SCO’s decision-making process through official membership in the organization.

With regard to economic issues, Iran, as a major producer of energy, can have constructive interaction with other member countries, especially China, which is currently the world’s biggest consumer of energy. However, since Iran's membership is currently limited to observer status, the country cannot still engage in such interactions within framework of the organization. The presence and participation of Iran in the organization’s discussions, especially by exchange of viewpoints, which usually occurs among heads of member states on the sidelines of the SCO meetings, can give a remarkable boost to Iran's regional role.

We cannot expect much from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization because it mainly pursues the goals set by Beijing and Moscow, but since both Russia and China have friendly ties with Iran and Tehran attaches great importance to the Central Asia, presence in the SCO is of high importance to Iran's foreign policy apparatus.

Q: There are different and sometimes contradictory views in Iran about the country’s membership in the SCO. Some consider that membership as a positive step in the direction of more regional convergence, while others believe that it is devoid of any advantage for Iran. What is your opinion in this regard?

A: Basically, under present global conditions, participation in regional cooperation processes is not only useful, but also necessary. Of course, Shanghai (Cooperation) Organization has been founded to pursue specified goals, most of which are related to security. Therefore, it has a long way to go before turning into a purely economic organization. However, even in its current state, it will be beneficial for Iran to be member of the organization. This issue will not only boost Iran's regional role, but also make Iran a partner to possible benefits of economic cooperation among the SCO member states.

Those who oppose Iran's membership in the SCO, firstly, point to low benefits of Iran's membership and, secondly maintain that the organization’s definition of religious extremism and terrorism may not conform to Iran's definition of those phenomena. Of course, this issues are not totally without a solution. We must not be afraid of participation in regional arrangements and trends for one reason or another because even when such participation is not very beneficial to Iran, it does no harm too.

Q: Russia has recently lent support to full membership of Pakistan in the organization while China has done the same for India. On the other hand, both Russia and China have shown their explicit and implicit opposition to Iran's full membership in the organization. Some analysts believe that this is due to Iran's inability to find regional friends. What is your opinion in this regard?

A: There are many reasons for the opposition of China and Russia to Iran's full membership. In the first place, China and Russia are not willing for the organization to get involved in Iran's nuclear case and Tehran’s dispute with the West by granting full membership to Iran. On the other hand, Iran may have not taken sufficient steps to convince other member countries to support its membership bid. The reason for this is existence of some doubts about advantages of Iran's membership in the SCO on the basis of a simple cost and benefit calculation.

Q: Some analysts have pointed to fundamental differences between Iran's foreign policy approaches and those of certain member states of the SCO, especially Iran's different definition of terrorism. As a result, they argue that if Iran becomes a full member of the organization, subsequent obligations of Tehran will be at odds with Iran's basic policies. What is your opinion?

A: This issue is very much related to every country’s ability to create norms and build rules. In regional organizations, countries which enjoy high diplomatic capacities will be able to influence many of those organization’s trends. If Iran, given its domestic potentials, takes steps to increase its ability to convince other countries, there should be no further concern in this regard. Staying away of such international platforms, will solve no problems. We must venture even if we have to pay a price because it will enable us to make the most of the situation.

Q: The possibility that Russia and China, due to the great influence which they sway on the SCO, will try to impose their viewpoints on Iran has been enumerated as another threat which full membership in the organization may pose to Iran. What is your opinion in this regard?

A: Decisions in regional organizations are usually taken through consensus. Therefore, no single country can impose its views on other members. Of course, countries with high diplomatic prowess will be able to make other countries follow their views. In the meantime, presence in such organizations requires some form of give and take. Encouraging interaction needs a price to be paid in order to gain something in return. If Iran does not want to pay any price, it will be better for the country to remain an observer. By the way, there is no doubt that Russia and China, as founders of the organization, give the highest priority to meeting their own interests.

Key Words: Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Iran, Eurasian Axis, Border Disputes, Iran's Membership, Russia, China, Vaezi   

Source: Iran and Eurasia Research Center (IRAS)
Translated By: Iran Review

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