BEIJING (Dispatches) -- Sanctions-hit Iran has claimed that it is on the verge of full membership of a China-led security grouping, with the country’s new security chief saying it is now only a question of formalities.
Diplomatic analysts said if that were the case it would amount to international recognition of Iran in the face of opposition from the United States.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary general of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said on Twitter on Wednesday that Iran’s years-long efforts to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization were close to realization.
“An hour ago, in a phone call with my friend and colleague Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian National Security Council, we examined the developments in Afghanistan, Syria and the Persian Gulf,” he said.
“Fortunately, the political obstacles to Iran’s membership in the Shanghai agreement have been removed and Iran’s membership will be finalized through technical formalities.”
But a Russian statement about the meeting did not mention progress on Iran’s membership and the SCO has also not made any announcement.
An observer at the SCO since 2005, Iran applied for full membership in 2015. India and Pakistan became observers at the same time as Iran but they have been members since 2017.
The full members of the SCO are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan.
Iran’s efforts to upgrade its status have faced opposition from members like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, in part because of the sanctions.
James Dorsey, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said SCO membership would be in Iran’s interests but China might not want to “rock the boat” by allowing it now.
“China doesn’t want to expose itself to more U.S. sanctions, and so it has struck relatively careful with Iran for the past several years ... It’s clearly not where they want to go, I don’t see that that has changed,” South China Morning Post quoted Dorsey as saying.
Russia could have a “greater interest to poke in the eye of the U.S. than China does at this point”, he said.
Fan Hongda, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University, said that if Iran’s membership was confirmed, it would be a declaration that China and Russia were accepting Iran into a multilateral institution despite U.S. pressure.
“If it is really confirmed, I would not be too surprised, because relations between China and Iran were already going in the direction of further cooperation when they finalized their 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement earlier this year,” Fan said, referring to a deal signed in March assuring China’s expanded presence in Iran across a wide range of sectors, from energy and banking, to telecommunications.
“However, I would say this has to wait until an official confirmation to be taken seriously,” Fan said.