Tehran, Iran – President Ebrahim Raisi has said Iran wants closer ties with its regional neighbours and rejected the United States’s “unilateralism”, as his country became a full member of the influential Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Iran said on Friday it had been accepted as the eighth full member of the organisation during its annual conference in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. Senior officials from other full member states – namely China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – were in attendance.
Iran had held observer status for the past 15 years. It expects the full membership to help it boost its economy and regional standing.
In a speech to the summit, newly elected Raisi predominantly emphasised his main stated foreign policy goal, which is to expand political, economic and cultural ties with countries across the region and protect Iran from unilateral punishments from the West.
He said Iran’s geopolitical position, population, energy supplies, transport potential, workforce and culture can provide “meaningful momentum” to major regional masterplans, including China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“The world has entered a new era,” Raisi said. “Hegemony and unilateralism are failing. The international balance is moving toward multilateralism and redistribution of power to the benefit of independent countries.”
In this vein, the Iranian president referred to “sanctions or economic terrorism” as major hurdles for regional progress, and called on the SCO member states to develop structures and mechanisms to fight sanctions as a group.
“Unilateral sanctions are not against only one country,” he said. “As it has become evident in recent years, sanctions have targeted more independent countries, especially members of the organisation.”
Iran has been under harsh US sanctions since 2018, when former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew his country from a 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers.
On the nuclear deal, Raisi said he viewed diplomacy as a tool to secure national interests. But he said it was only effective when all countries abided by it.
“Unfortunately, some countries believe they can turn diplomacy to their benefit through using tools of threats and pressure,” he said in another veiled message to the US as Iran and other nuclear deal signatories are expected to head back to Vienna soon to resume talks on restoring the accord.
The president said nothing can stop Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear activities, days after European powers again called on Iran to scale back its nuclear programme at the end of the latest conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Raisi also listed the COVID-19 pandemic, terrorism, environment, cyber security and organised crime as other challenges facing the SCO members that can be tackled in unison.
The Iranian president, who touched down in Dushanbe on Thursday, held a string of high-level talks with his SCO peers, including bilateral meetings with several heads of state, and a multilateral meeting on Afghanistan.
Raisi was also slated to meet Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in person, but the two agreed to set a meeting in the foreseeable future after the latter had to quarantine after people in his inner circle tested positive for coronavirus.