Shanghai group goes for expansion without Ahmadinejad
A regional security organization dominated by Russia and China agreed on Friday to open its doors to new members with the exception of Iran, recently slapped with sanctions over its nuclear programme.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) adopted the guidelines, seen as potentially allowing observer nations India and Pakistan to join, at its annual summit in the Uzbek capital Tashkent.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hailed the new guidelines as "laying the foundation for expanding the SCO framework."
But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leader of another SCO observer nation, Iran, stayed away from the summit after his country was slapped with fresh sanctions approved by the UN Security Council this week.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the newly adopted guidelines do not allow countries under UN sanctions to obtain membership, a major blow to Iran which sorely needs international support.
"It is written very clearly that one of the criteria (for membership) is that it is necessary not to be under UN Security Council sanctions," Lavrov told reporters.
"If the Security Council has introduced sanctions, then that country cannot become a full member."
Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported that the provision was pushed through by Moscow and Beijing, which are unwilling to jeopardize their relations with the West because of Iran.
Despite close economic ties with the Islamic republic, Russia and China, two of the five Security Council's veto-wielding permanent members, supported a new round of UN sanctions against Iran this week.
By contrast, Ahmadinejad was warmly greeted at the SCO annual summit in Russia last June, which he chose for his first foreign trip following his disputed re-election victory last year.
Senior Russian officials however have denied Moscow had asked the Iranian leader to stay away this time.
Analysts said approving the membership guidelines would not immediately bring in new SCO members since observer nations like India and Pakistan have testy ties and China has not yet signalled support for the group's expansion.
A Chinese diplomat, Zhang Xiao, said the blueprint adopted Friday was just the start of work in this direction.
"In fact, approving this document does not automatically mean the expansion of the SCO," said Zhang, deputy director-general for European and Central Asian affairs at China's foreign ministry.
"The job already done represents only one percent, we have another 99 percent to do."
Poor security in Afghanistan and ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan will also likely weigh against the group's immediate expansion, analysts said.
Early Friday, Kyrgyzstan saw a new flare-up of violence that left at least 23 people dead and more than 300 wounded, in the latest unrest since an uprising toppled president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April.
The SCO was set up in 2001 as a security counterweight to NATO that would allow Russia and China to rival US influence in Asia. Increasingly, it is also looking to cooperate at an economic level.
Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Turkmenistan's leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov were also in attendance at the summit.
© 2010 AFP