Tehran’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) came after the unanimous approval of its members to reinforce the eastward policy adopted by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to support his country’s relations with China and Russia.
The organization was established in 2001 as an intergovernmental organization dedicated to addressing political, economic and security issues and promoting cooperation among its members, which include China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The SCO comprises about 44 percent of the world’s population, four nuclear powers (or half of the world’s nuclear powers), and about a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product, demonstrating its strategic importance.
Iranian media exaggerated the accession by portraying it as an historic victory for new President Ebrahim Raisi, who accomplished what former presidents Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani had failed to do, while this decision came from Moscow, which for 16 years had objected to Tehran’s annexation of the organization and finally agreed at the summit hosted by the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, which may take more than five years to fully activate.
The Iranian press also exaggerated the celebration of the Russians’ pledges to cooperate to help Iran solve its banking crisis without providing a clear example of how Moscow could contribute to easing the impact of international sanctions on Iran, knowing that the Volga-Caspian trade route, which is supposed to help Tehran circumvent US sanctions, has not been activated on the ground.
Earlier this year, Iran and China signed a 25-year strategic partnership that includes billions of dollars in Chinese investments in Iranian energy and infrastructure projects.
Iran is working to improve its relationship with the other major powers in the SCO, especially Russia, and the two sides agreed to hold joint military exercises with Beijing late this year or early next year in a repetition of the trilateral naval maneuvers in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman in late 2019.
It may only be a matter of time until Iran builds or acquires, with Russian and Chinese help, advanced weapons. That partnership could provide the Iranians with more powerful air defense capabilities, missile systems, and electronic warfare capabilities.
The SOC countries’ approval indicates that there is a belief that the nuclear agreement will be revived and the US sanctions will be lifted, as the SOC countries will not be able to conduct economic transactions with countries subject to international restrictions, and Moscow and Beijing have agreed to accept Tehran’s membership in the framework of the Cold War with Washington, especially the AUKUS security pact between the United States, Britain and Australia for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.