Iran Wants Seat at Regional Security Table

A03994576.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- Iran formally launched a bid Monday to join a central Asian security organization following a long tenure in an observer role, Iranian Foreign Minister said.

Manouchehr Mottaki said Monday that Iran wants a permanent seat on the six-country Shanghai Cooperation Organization which serves as a regional balance to US and NATO influence in the region.

China and Russia, as two key players in the SCO, see Iran as a key trading partner in the oil and gas sector.

Though the SCO postponed new membership, it has supported stronger ties with its four observer states, including Iran.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was created 11 years ago to address religious extremism and border security in Central Asia, but with growing interest in membership from countries such as Iran, it has grown into a bloc aimed at defying US interests in the region.

Iran currently has observer status in the organization, as do Afghanistan, India, Mongolia and Pakistan. Along with China and Russia, the body’s permanent members are the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

“Tajikistan has given us its support over this matter,” Mottaki said after meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon in the capital, Dushanbe.

Rakhmon visited Iran last month to hold talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The topics included increasing military cooperation.

Mottaki’s announcement may raise concerns in the West that membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization could complicate efforts to dissuade Tehran from continuing its nuclear progress.

Mottaki said Iran remained open to cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.

The US is at loggerheads with Iran over Tehran’s independent and home-grown nuclear technology. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

Washington’s push for additional UN penalties contradicted the recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, any effort to impose further sanctions on Iran seemed to be completely irrational.

The February report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, praised Iran’s cooperation in clearing up all of the past questions over its nuclear program, vindicating Iran’s nuclear program and leaving no justification for any new UN sanctions.

Tehran says it never worked on atomic weapons and wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.

Iran has insisted it would continue enriching uranium because it needs to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it is building in the southwestern town of Darkhovin as well as its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr.

Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency.

US President George W. Bush, who finished a tour of the Middle East last month has called on his Arab allies to unite against Iran.

But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.

Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the growing international vigilance, specially following the latest IAEA and US intelligence reports.

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