EghtesadOnline: Resolution of bilateral issues with Central Asian countries, particularly Tajikistan, can help ease Iran’s membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organization, says a former diplomat, who believes that intensified diplomatic efforts are needed to accomplish this goal.
In a recent interview with the Iranian Diplomacy website, Mohammad Reza Forqani said President Hassan Rouhani's participation in two important regional summits was a "positive" development that could change Tehran's relations with Central Asian states for the better.
Rouhani recently attended the SCO summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and a summit of a 27-member regional grouping called the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
"Tehran's participation in such summits definitely provides a great opportunity to exchange and clarify views and expand cooperation on regional and global issues," said Forqani, who has previously served in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
According to Financial Tribune, he maintains that the clearing up of misunderstandings with certain Central Asian countries can help Iran join SCO.
Jointly led by Russia and China, SCO was launched in 2001 to address regional security, political and economic challenges. The eight-member group also includes Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and, since 2017, Pakistan and India.
Iran is currently an observer member in the organization, though it has long sought full membership.
Despite the fact that legal obstacles to Iran's full membership in SCO were removed after the lifting of international sanctions against Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal, the opposition of countries such as Tajikistan prevented Tehran from become a full member, said the former official, who is an expert on Central Asian affairs.
Forqani noted that in light of Rouhani's trips to regional countries and his meetings with leaders of these nations on the sidelines of the conferences in Bishkek and Dushanbe, these actors' views are expected to change positively and favor Iran’s full membership in SCO.
Iran was the first country to recognize Tajikistan's independence in the early 1990s and acted as one of the mediators in talks to end its 1992-97 civil war.
Howeve, ties between the two nations have been strained since a leader of a banned Tajik Islamist party attended a conference in Tehran in 2015, which angered the government in Dushanbe.
In 2017, Tajikistan—a nation of 9 million people which is separated from Iran by Afghanistan—accused Tehran of sending assassins and saboteurs into the former Soviet republic when it was embroiled in the civil war. Tehran denies the allegations.
The shuttering of several Iranian centers in the country at the request of Tajik authorities and their decision to impose travel and trade restrictions on citizens and goods from Iran in recent years also contributed to the souring in relations.
Another irritant has been the fate of the assets of jailed Iranian billionaire Babak Zanjani, whose international business empire included assets in Tajikistan.
Forqani added that Tajik Foreign Minister Sirodjidin Mukhriddin's recent visit to Iran helped resolve some of these differences between the two countries, which could eventually lead to Iran's full membership in SCO.
Nevertheless, the former diplomat stressed that the accomplishment of this important goal requires continued diplomatic efforts.
"What Iran needs more than anything else right now is accession to organizations and treaties such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization … so that it can benefit from its advantages," he said, highlighting the importance of Russia and China as two of the world's most influential military and economic powers, respectively.