1. As you know, Iran has recently become a full member of SCO. How would you evaluate the significance of this? What are the important aspects of this?
This is an important development which shows Iran’s rising significance in the emerging Multipolar World Order. It cannot be ignored nor isolated like its opponents want, but must be taken seriously and embraced. Iran can now further enhance its ties with the bloc’s members, especially Russia, China, and Pakistan. They can also work more closely together to tackle shared threats coming from Afghanistan, which is especially important nowadays after the Taliban’s takeover of that country. Another point to pay attention to is how this could improve Iran’s connectivity prospects with Eurasia. The Islamic Republic occupies a geostrategic location on the supercontinent and can serve to facilitate its partners’ overland access to the rest of West Asia. It’s therefore expected that Iran’s full membership in the SCO will benefit its security and economy with time.
2. In a speech to the summit, the Iran president emphasized his desire to protect Iran from unilateral punishments from the West. In your opinion, to what extent this membership can change the ‘game’?
Iran’s formal inclusion into the SCO will provide it with reliable partners that won’t sanction it. By expanding connectivity with the bloc’s members, Iran will be able to better protect itself from such unilateral punishments, which have mostly been economic in recent years. On the security front, those countries can all share their relevant anti-terrorist experiences and therefore bolster one another’s defenses against these unconventional threats that the West sometimes uses to undermine Iran.
3. In your views, to what extent can this membership change the power balance in the region and also in the world?
The world was already in the midst of a gradual power transition from West to East, and Iran crucially sits in the center of this trend. Its membership in the SCO enables this Eastern organization to expand its influence in West Asia. By functioning as their only member in this region, Iran can play an important role in helping other countries join this bloc. It’s too early to tell which ones might follow in its footsteps, but future members would have to enjoy excellent relations with Iran in order to participate as formal members. This might incentivize some prospective members like Saudi Arabia which just received dialogue partner status to moderate their policies towards the Islamic Republic, which would of course positively influence the regional balance of power.
4. What economic opportunities do you see for Iran?
The most important economic opportunities relate to connectivity, particularly in Iran functioning as an irreplaceable transit state for the bloc’s North-South and East-West corridors. The first-mentioned refers to the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) between Russia and India via Azerbaijan and Iran while the second concerns the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor.
Supplementary connectivity with China could also be achieved through the de facto western expansion of the Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as well as a so-called “Persian Corridor” across Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Connectivity is so important nowadays because it unlocks additional economic opportunities and can directly improve people’s lives with time.
5. The West has always tried to isolate Iran by imposing sanctions. Can Iran’s membership in the Shanghai Agreement now reduce the impact of sanctions?
It’ll take time, but that’s one of the reasons why Iran wanted to join, in order to insulate itself from the impact of sanctions by cultivating a reliable network of partners to support it. Expanding connectivity is the first step towards this end. In the interim, however, it won’t have to worry about the SCO members following the West’s lead by sanctioning it since they’re all officially opposed to the weaponization of financial instruments.
Nevertheless, there’s no denying that India voluntarily complied with the US’ unilateral sanctions regime against Iran by distancing itself from the Islamic Republic in recent years in order to avoid America’s so-called “secondary sanctions”. That was problematic, but hopefully India realizes how counterproductive it was. In any case, even if India were to repeat that policy, Iran can still rely on China and Russia for the most part.
The SCO hasn’t yet financially matured to the point of creating its own such alternative institutions, but it might eventually do so, though once again after some length of time considering the complexities involved. That would be one of the best scenarios for Iran since it could integrate itself into that structure from its foundation and therefore be assured of reliable financial support in the face of future Western sanctions.
This interview was originally published in Farsi here