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Iran's Shanghai Dream

The Perks and Pitfalls of Joining China's Security Club

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Shanghai, May 21, 2014. Mark Ralston / Reuters

In late June, during the 15th annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a China-led security bloc, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the signing of the U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal and the lifting of UN sanctions meant that there were “no obstacles left” to Iran joining the SCO. But only a day earlier, the SCO as a whole and Beijing, by implication, had refused to process Iran’s application, and a month before that, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had recommended that the bloc focus first on India and Pakistan’s own slated accessions. During the same summit, Putin’s SCO representative Bakhtiyor Khakimov vaguely explained that “technical nuances” were to blame for the varying positions. What is at play is a deep disagreement between the SCO’s two main powers—Beijing and Moscow—over Iran’s bid for membership.

Tehran, which applied for full accession in 2008, has

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