Russia, China Extend Hand to Iran

From the June-July 2006 Trumpet Print Edition

Iran has largely stood alone against Europe and America in its fight for the right to nuclear weapons. No nation of any real influence has completely thrown its weight behind Tehran. Though Russia, China and India all have a soft spot for Iran, even they have been fairly non-committal—until recently.

In April, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (sco) announced that it was inviting Iran to become a full member.

Last year, the United States lobbied for observer status in the sco—a request which was denied. Now, Asia Times has reported, “Mongolia, Iran, India and Pakistan, which previously had observer status, will become full members” (April 18).

Formed in 2001, the sco has until this point been a security organization comprised of the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as Russia and China. Although it certainly hasn’t been a central organization in global affairs, the membership of Russia and China definitely means the sco can’t be marginalized. Now, with additions like firebrand Iran and economic powerhouse India, watch for the sco to begin to throw its weight around on the world scene.

The “sco’s decision to welcome Iran into its fold constitutes a political statement” (ibid., emphasis ours throughout). This invitation to Iran was essentially Russia and China’s announcement that in the standoff between Iran and the West, they have decided to come down on Iran’s side.

Asia Times reported that the “sco would now proceed to adopt a common position on the Iran nuclear issue at its summit meeting June 15.” If sco members take Tehran’s side, Europe and America’s task of halting Iran’s nuclear program will grow much more difficult.

Asia Times continued, “The sco’s change of heart appears set to involve the organization in Iran’s nuclear battle and other ongoing regional issues with the United States.” By embracing Iran, Russia and China are essentially making the sco a primary means to coordinate their efforts to challenge Western power and influence.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister told itar-tass that the membership expansion “could make the world more fair” (i.e. provide competition for American “imperialism”). He also discussed coordinating the energy infrastructure of Russia and Iran and building an Iran-Russia “gas-and-oil arc.” With gas prices surging worldwide, the suggestion that two oil-rich and intensely anti-Western nations might work together to consolidate their energy resources is no small concern.

With pressure over the Iranian nuclear program mounting, the sco’s decision is literally a “lifeline for Iran in political and economic terms” (ibid.).

Ironically, the sco is ostensibly committed to monitoring religious extremism and countering terrorism, among other things. Welcoming Iran is simply Russia and China flouting America’s contention that Iran is the world’s number-one sponsor of terrorism and a nation led by religious fanaticism. sco membership would equip Iran with something it presently lacks: credence.

Membership also comes with significant economic benefits—“access to technology, increased investment and trade, infrastructure development such as banking, communication, etc. It would also have implications for global energy security” (ibid.).

The sco’s decision to invite Iran into its fold shows Tehran that two of the world’s most powerful nations have no qualms about aligning with it. Also, America and Europe’s battle with Iran will intensify, as Russia, China and India throw their weight behind Tehran. This invitation additionally highlights that a distinctive anti-Western fault line is growing deeper throughout the world. Finally, with Iran, India and Pakistan as full members, together with Russia and China, the sco will likely seek to establish a stronger position of influence in Western and Central Asia. Surrounded by sco members, American and nato forces in the region could be squeezed out.

Moreover, thanks to the support it will receive from other nations, such as its fellow sco members, Iran will only grow bolder and increasingly pushy in its foreign policy. As this occurs, watch for America and Europe to grow more frustrated in their attempts to “manage” this Middle Eastern dilemma.