Shanghai group set to deny membership to Iran

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), where Russia and China play a major role, is set to deny membership to Iran at a meeting Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The SCO is expected to vote Friday on a blueprint for expanding cooperation that will not allow countries under UN sanctions to obtain membership, Lavrov said late Thursday in Tashkent.

"Tomorrow (Friday) a provision will be approved," Lavrov told reporters, when asked to confirm that under soon-to-be-adopted rules, a nation seeking SCO membership could not be under UN sanctions.

"Among membership criteria will be the one you've mentioned," Lavrov said, without referring to Iran directly.

Despite close economic and energy ties with the Islamic republic, Russia and China, two of the five UN Security Council veto-wielding permanent members, this week supported a new round of UN sanctions against Iran.

The Islamic republic, which has observer status in the SCO, has expressed interest in full membership of the regional security group.

Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported this week that Russia and China had insisted on the new provision regarding UN sanctions so as not to jeopardize their ties with the West.

The report, citing diplomatic sources in several SCO member countries, also said Iran's besieged leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted an invitation to the Friday gathering.

Ahmadinejad is keen to secure support of his allies in the face of intensifying international pressure.

But Russia, China and Kazakhstan, the current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), had decided to "politely deny" it, the report said.

By contrast, Ahmadinejad was warmly greeted at the SCO annual summit in Russia last June, which he chose for his first foreign trip since his disputed re-election victory last year.

Russian senior officials have denied Moscow had asked the Iranian leader to stay away this time.

"He himself decided not to come," Lavrov told reporters.

Earlier this week, the Kremlin's top foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko expressed a similar sentiment, saying the Iranian leader chose not to come.

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.


© 2010 AFP

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