20.06.2019 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Trump Must Tackle the SCO over Iran


Unlike in the West, where the US and Europe are not yet on the same page vis-à-vis Iran despite the ‘evidence’ the US has presented claiming Iran is masterminding oil-attacks in the Gulf, countries in the East, especially those of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), have sent a clear message to the US expressing opposition to its military adventurism in the Middle East, which marks the rise of new centers of power in the world capable of influencing globally relevant situations such as the American confrontation with Iran. The joint declaration stressed that the members see the Iran nuclear deal as a priority and call on all participants to strictly fulfil their obligations for the comprehensive and effective implementation of the deal. Although the US is technically no longer a part of this deal, the SCO’s adherence to the reached agreements manifests its conviction that there’s  no other viable way to approach the so-called ‘Iran nuclear issue.’

The reference to Iran matters in the current scenario not just because Russia and China have their interests deeply tied with Iran over a number of issues, but also because Iran was present at the conference as an observer, bringing the current crisis center stage of the SCO agenda.

Using the opportunity – and sharing the stage with China, Russia, Pakistan, India and other members – Rouhani said:

“The US government over the last two years, violating all the international structures and rules and using its economic, financial and military resources, has taken an aggressive approach and presents a serious risk to stability in the region and the world.” In his speech, China’s Xi stressed yet again that Beijing will keep developing ties with Tehran “no matter how the situation changes.”

Even for European states – the UK, Germany and France in particular – the Iranian presence at the SCO signifies its future membership status, which further means that Iran’s leadership is looking increasingly towards greater and deeper integration with the Eurasian region and slowly weaning itself away from the West and that European inability to implement its commitments according to the Iran nuclear deal would only accelerate this process.

Iran as well as China and Russia do believe that Europe will eventually succumb to the US. Under this context, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’s recent visit to Tehran was no more than an attempt to ‘convince’ Iran to accept US terms and thus ‘save’ the deal. As it stands, Maas, during his recent visit to the UAE, actually called Iran’s ballistic missile programme “problematic”, signaling his desire to initiate talks with Iran over the matter. Quite obviously, the European powers, despite their bravado (in words), are falling in line with Trump’s strategy of ‘maximum pressure’ against Iran, giving Iran every reason to turn toward Eurasia.

While Iran sees immense economic opportunity in the Eurasian region, for China and Russia, Iran is the key country in the Middle East which matters for the integration of the various regional connectivity plans – BRI, SCO, EAEU – to develop a new geography of trade in Asia, connecting it with Europe as well.

While Iran’s interests are economic and strategic to an extent, why SCO matters in the current scenario and why it is causing the US to lose its exclusive grip on ‘managing’ global affairs unilaterally is the fact that SCO symbolises the push for what the SCO declaration called a “multi-polar world order”, with particular emphasis on a world economic system that revolves more around Eurasia than the Atlantic Ocean i.e., the US and Europe.

Since Iran is a crucial element in the system being created, a war between the US and Iran would destabilise the whole region and thus set forth forces of disruption that would jeopardize all of these connectivity programmes and/or the ideal of a multi-polar world; hence, the Russian and Chinese opposition to war on Iran.

The US, therefore, is facing a very powerful and combined opposition against its designs for Iran. Accordingly, Xi’s commitment to defy the US over Iran no matter what the situation, is in fact, an expression of a strong commitment toward a multi-polar world where global decisions are not made in Washington only.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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