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On July 9, 2015 the most important decision-making organ of one of the key players in international geopolitics held its 15th summit meeting in Ufa, the capital city of Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is seen by many as possessing the necessary means to act as a vital mediator between the world’s big powers, including those involving NATO.
As such, it is not without significance that the summit was being held within the shadow of continuing and escalating tensions between the west and Russia over the future of eastern Ukraine. SCO is largely dominated not only by Russia but also by China, and has sought to coordinate the interests of Russia and Asian powers since the end of the Cold War. The organization is considered one of the most important Asian actors in the international system.
One country that has been keeping a keen eye on SCO’s strategies over the last few decades is Iran. Not only geographical proximity makes SCO essential to Iran’s interests but also the organization’s capacities, goals and potential ability to sway the balance of international power in the global political arena.
Iran’s strategy toward the SCO is marked by a desire for “increasing partnership in regional alliances”. This approach is the result of historical developments in the region and within Iran’s overall attitude to collective security. It reflects the country’s needs, internal limitations and international restrictions such as internationally imposed sanctions. It suggests that detailed analysis of Iran’s relationship to SCO since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 would be merited.
Analysis would reveal more about Iran’s foreign policy goals and orientation, how its actions have been affected by those international restrictions and would also illuminate Iranian attitudes to the two main players within SCO, China and Russia.
Clearly more recent alterations in Iran’s international relations deserve serious attention too. In particular, events leading up to Iran’s nuclear issue and the subsequent deal between Iran and the P5+1 group would be illuminating. How and why the deal came about also need to be highlighted. These events have and will continue to have major significance for the balance of interests in both the narrower and broader region. They will also impact on the scope and level of cooperation Iran wishes to develop with SCO.
SCO has always regarded Iran as an effective international actor. It has sought to balance Chinese and Russian geo-political concerns with US responses to Iran’s foreign policy orientation and decisions. SCO’s attitudes can be measured by the degree to which the west has sought to threaten Iran and put pressure on it or has attempted greater rapprochement.
If SCO were able to gain greater cooperation of powerful partners like Iran, it would enable the organization to exert more influence over issues such as the struggle against terrorism and drug smuggling, thus bolstering the of the region within today’s multipolar world.