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Raeisi to visit Tajikistan for SCO summit, Iran’s full membership on agenda

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi in this file photo taken on 21 June 2021 (Photo by AFP)

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raeisi, on his maiden foreign visit since taking office last month, will travel to Tajikistan this week to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit.

The visit comes at the invitation of Tajikistan, the rotating chair of the SCO this year, which has fully backed Iran for the full membership of the Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance, which was launched in 2001 by China, Russia, and the Central Asian republics.

The annual summit of the grouping that comprises eight member countries will take place from September 16 to 17 in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe and will be in hybrid mode.

Iran, which acquired observer status in the multilateral organization in June 2005, is expected to make a strong pitch for permanent membership in this week’s summit, with the support of Russia.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh, in a press briefing on Monday, said the visit will pursue two aims: participation in the SCO summit and delegation-level talks between Iran and Tajikistan.

“The president’s office and the Foreign Ministry are working on extensive plans about both aspects,” he said. “Necessary arrangements have been made by Dushanbe and the Iranian Embassy in Tajikistan.”

He further said that Iran’s request for full SCO membership will be considered during the summit, expressing hope for a desirable outcome.

The debate about Iran’s full membership of the multilateral body gained momentum recently after Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani said that the path has been paved for the fulfillment of the longstanding demand.

Following his telephone conversation with Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev in August, Shamkani, who heads the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, said Iran will soon join the SCO, pointing to Russia’s support.

“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,” he said in a statement.

It came weeks after Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin at a press conference in Dushanbe said his country will back a decision to admit Iran to the SCO if there is consensus.

In recent weeks, many countries have come forward in support of Iran’s bid, including Russia and China.

Bakhtiyor Khakimov, the Russian president’s special envoy for SCO affairs, on Thursday, said that Moscow expects the SCO members to decide on Tehran’s accession to the organization during the upcoming summit in Dushanbe.

“There is a certain procedure stipulated in the SCO documents. We expect that in Dushanbe, the Council of Heads of State will make a decision on the commencement of Iran’s admission to the SCO, which means the launching of the negotiation process to agree on the documents according to which Iran will accede to the legal and contractual framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” the Russian envoy said,” he was quoted as saying by TASS.

Iran’s President Raeisi was expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the summit. But reports now say that Putin will attend the summit via videoconference following the identification of fresh COVID-19 cases in his inner circle.

The two leaders had a telephone conversation on Tuesday, during which Putin informed his Iranian counterpart that he has been quarantined.    

The Russian president called for coordination between the two sides to facilitate a meeting between them “at the earliest possible.”

In an earlier phone call on August 27, Raeisi had thanked Moscow for launching the process of Iran's membership in the SCO and hoped that it will bolster ties between the two allies.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov also discussed the issue of Iran's SCO membership during their phone talk last month.

China has also thrown its weight behind Iran’s full membership of the SCO. Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his recent telephone conversation with President Raeisi asserted that Beijing’s support was in line with the organization's long-term interests.

Raeisi, on his part, called China's strategic plans, such as The Belt and Road Initiative, in Iran's interest, and pledged commitment to full implementation of the Iran-China comprehensive cooperation pact.

Iran's top diplomat Amir-Abdollahian also discussed the issue with China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier this month, thanking Beijing for backing Iran’s membership in the alliance. 

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