Iran charts out new foreign policy course

August 14, 2021 - 19:51

TEHRAN – After 16 years of being on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Iran will soon acquire full membership in the international body, ushering in a new era of more balanced foreign policy that is expected to set the country on a path of development. 

The membership announcement was made after a phone conversation between Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, the head of the top Iranian security body said he held a conversation with his “friend and colleague, Mr. Patrushev” in which they examined developments in Afghanistan, Syria, and the Persian Gulf region. 

Shamkhani capped off his tweet with glad tidings. “Fortunately, the political obstacles to Iran's membership in the Shanghai CO have been removed & Iran's membership will be finalized,” he said. 

The news came amid ongoing efforts by the new Iranian President, Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi, to put together a government expected to deal with a variety of foreign policy challenges and opportunities ranging from the tattered 2015 nuclear deal with the West to long-term partnership plans with Russia and China. 

Throughout his election campaign, Ayatollah Raisi introduced himself as a force for change, both in domestic politics and in foreign policy.

He put his election win in the broader context of change in Iran’s course of history. “The message of the Iranian people in the June 18 election was the message of change and justice,” the president said during his inauguration ceremony, noting, “The Iranian nation stood against the East and the West to prove that religious democracy is a new way of governing that can bring independence and freedom, religion and the world, tradition, and progress together.”

Pointing to his foreign policy agenda in front of dozens of Iranian and foreign officials attending his swearing-in ceremony, Ayatollah Raisi underlined the need to take heed of the emerging powers on the global stage. 

“The world is changing and the interests of nations depend on understanding the new world and strategic interaction with emerging powers, and a successful foreign policy will be a balanced foreign policy,” he said. 

This was the latest reference to the path the Raisi government is expected to tread. The SCO announcement by Shamkhani exemplified how the next government of Iran would cement ties with the emerging powers. 

In mid-June 2001, leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan announced the establishment of the SCO, also known as the Shanghai Pact. The SCO was meant to create a platform for political, economic, and security cooperation among the members. Since 2005, Iran has enjoyed observer status in the organization. In the following years, Iran requested full membership. But the Iranian request was shelved for years due to some complexities. 

Now that Ayatollah Raisi has assumed office, things seem to have finally changed in favor of Iran’s membership. The annual meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of State is slated for mid-September and will be held in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, which currently serves as the chair of the organization. 

Nour News, a news website close to Iran’s top security body, said Tajikistan has officially invited Iran to attend the September meeting. Ayatollah Raisi will represent Iran in that meeting.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been an observer member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization since 2005, will be accepted as a permanent member this time at the official request of Russia, which was sent in writing to the secretariat of the organization, Nour News said. 

According to the Shanghai Convention, permanent memberships of the new member states must be approved by all permanent members of the organization, which has reportedly been agreed upon, the website added.

Observers have hailed the membership. Mohsen Pak-Ayeen, Iran’s former ambassador to Azerbaijan, described the move as a win-win deal for both Iran and the SCO. “Iran's membership in the Shanghai Organization is in the interest of both sides - Iran and the organization,” he told Fars News. 

All permanent members of the SCO have equal rights in terms of accepting the membership requests of other countries. These equal rights also include other issues. however, China and Russia play a key role in the organization, which makes it a counterbalance to U.S. and NATO influence in the region.

Iran also has signed a 25-year partnership with China that is likely to be implemented in the near future. In addition, a similar plan is under consideration between Tehran and Moscow. 

Enhancement of ties between Iran and non-Western powers such as China and Russia will likely continue. But this does not mean that Iran will turn its back on the rest of the world, including occidental countries. 

Ayatollah Raisi has made it clear that he wants balanced ties with the East and the West based on mutual respect. Unlike media speculations propagated by certain media outlets, the new Iranian president is not going to ramp up tensions and downgrade ties with the West. In his recent phone conversation with French President Emanuel Macron, Ayatollah Raisi suggested that he is open to negotiations but only if they ensure the interests of Iran. 
 

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