As leaders meet in Uzbekistan, the eight-member regional body is poised to add Iran to its ranks.
Iran has signed a Memorandum of Obligations to become a permanent member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a central Asian security body, the Iranian foreign minister said.
“By signing the document for full membership of the SCO, now Iran has entered a new stage of various economic, commercial, transit and energy cooperation,” Hossein Amirabdollahian wrote on social media.
The statement came as leaders from China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan headed to the latter’s city of Samarkand for a summit of the eight-member SCO, a security group formed by Beijing and Moscow as a counterweight to United States influence.
Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia are observer countries, while the organisation has six “dialogue partners”: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
Last year, the rapidly expanding SCO approved Iran’s application for accession, while the government in Tehran called on members to help it form a mechanism to avert sanctions imposed by the West over its disputed nuclear programme.
Reporting from the Silk Road oasis of Samarkand, Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar said Iran’s full membership is expected to become effective in April 2023.
He added that the SCO, the world’s largest regional organisation consisting of 40 percent of the world’s population and 30 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), wants to further expand.
“Belarus is also officially going to sign the documents that its membership will be initiated,” Serdar said. “Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also expected to become new dialogue partners.”
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was among the leaders to attend the summit in Samarkand and was expected to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, according to Iranian media.
Iran’s economy has been hit hard since 2018, when then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned a landmark nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, including Russia and China.
Months of indirect talks between Iran and US President Joe Biden’s administration have hit a dead end over several obstacles to reviving the nuclear pact, under which the Iranian government agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.