Russia has pledged support to Iran becoming a full-fledged member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (S.C.O.), the Iranian and Russian media report. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday he hoped Iran’s SCO membership process would start in June. "Next in line, many have said this today, is Iran, which as you know has settled the issues related with Security Council sanctions. It now fully meets the criteria for SCO membership," Sputnik quoted Lavrov as saying. "We hope that in Astana in June, the heads of state will consider the issue of how to launch the process of including Iran as a full member," the Russian top diplomat said in Kazakhstan. Russian President Putin’s special envoy to SCO, however, said some other members of the organization oppose Iran’s accession, according to the Russian News Agency Tass. "We stand for this firmly and consistently, and we are open about it," Bakhtiyer Khakimov said, but added that certain partners have a different stance on the matter, and a consensus is needed for the decision to be made."

Comment: Both the Ahmadinejad and Rouhani governments have sought to obtain SCO membership – albeit unsuccessfully so far. When President Hassan Rouhani visited Moscow in late March, he discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who expressed readiness to back Iran’s bid. Iran has held an observer status at SCO since 2005. Last June, SCO members failed to reach a consensus on Iran’s accession. But now Tehran is trying to leverage its improved ties with Moscow to become a full member.

The SCO is an intergovernmental economic, political and military alliance composed of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It was founded in China in 2001 to foster confidence-building between Central Asian republics to demilitarize borders and enhance cooperation in the fight against militant groups. But it has broadened its mandate beyond counterterrorism and intelligence sharing and also functions as a counterweight to similar Western allied organizations. The formal process of India and Pakistan joining as full SCO members began last year.