DUBAI—Iran has moved a step closer toward becoming a permanent member of a central Asian security body dominated by Russia and China, as Tehran seeks to overcome economic isolation imposed by U.S. sanctions.
Foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said last Thursday that Iran had signed a memorandum of obligations to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which was holding a summit at the time in Uzbekistan.
The body, formed in 2001 as a talking shop for Russia, China, and ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, expanded four years ago to include India and Pakistan, with a view to playing a bigger role as a counterweight to Western influence in the region.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Thursday to attend the SCO summit. He held a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian state TV reported.
Last year, the central Asian security body approved Iran’s application for accession, while Tehran’s hardline rulers called on members to help it form a mechanism to avert sanctions imposed by the West over its disputed nuclear program.
Iran will now be able to take part in the body’s meetings, although it is likely to take some time to achieve full membership, deputy secretary-general of the organization Grigory Logvinov told Russian state TV, which also reported the signing.
Iran’s economy has been hit hard since 2018, when the United States withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, including Russia and China, and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran.
Months of indirect talks between Iran and U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration have hit a dead end over several obstacles to reviving the nuclear pact.
The U.S. sanctions and growing concerns about an emerging, U.S.-backed Gulf Arab-Israeli bloc that could shift the Middle East balance of power further away from Tehran have prompted Iran’s rulers to pursue closer economic and strategic ties with Russia, itself hit with sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
“Iran is determined to boost its ties with Russia, from economic to aerospace and political fields,” Raisi said during his meeting with Putin, according to Iranian state media.
“The cooperation between Tehran and Moscow can significantly neutralize the limitations imposed on our countries by the U.S. sanctions,” he said.
In July, just days after Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia, Putin visited Tehran in his first trip outside the former Soviet Union since the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
A delegation of 80 large companies will visit Iran this week, Russian state-owned news agency RIA reported, in another sign of the growing ties with Iran.