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Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit Opens

Several regional leaders have gathered in have gathered in Dushanbe for the summit.
Several regional leaders have gathered in have gathered in Dushanbe for the summit.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) opens a two-day summit in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, on September 11.

The presidents of member states China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are all due to attend the summit, which comes at a time when the Kremlin has sharpened its focus on Asia while its ties with the West have become severely strained by the Ukraine crisis.

The leaders of Iran and Mongolia are also in Dushanbe and will be holding meetings on the sidelines of the summit with the heads of of SCO member states.

Iran and Mongolia have observer status in the SCO, as do Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan.

This year's agenda is expected to have a heavy focus on regional security ahead of the planned drawdown of foreign forces in Afghanistan at the end of this year.

Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said ahead of the summit that Russia would be proposing to hold a conference on Afghanistan under SCO aegis later this year.

Another key topic on this year's agenda is finalizing a mechanism to accept new members.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments published on September 10 that formalizing legal, administrative, and financial requirements for entry would make it "possible to begin expanding the organization during the Russian presidency," which begins after the summit and lasts one year.

Ushakov said India and Pakistan were the two leading candidates for full membership among observer nations.

Ushakov said Iran, which has also wanted to join for several years, would have to wait a bit longer.

"The issue of Iran's membership would obviously be put off in view of UN sanctions still in effect against that country," Ushakov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are due to meet on the sidelines with Mongolian leader Tsakhia Elbegdorj to discuss areas of trilateral cooperation, including the expansion of trans-border railway corridors and the possibility of creating a regional electricity grid.

Putin is also scheduled to meet separately with Iranian President Hassan Rohani to discuss bilateral ties.

Security Is 'Top Priority'

Russia will take over the SCO presidency from Tajikistan at the end of the summit and will host the next summit in the city of Ufa next July.

Lavrov said in an interview with "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" that regional security remains the top priority but that Russia would "use its advocate for coordinated steps on the economy, financial sector, energy and food security."

Russia has banned many Western food imports in an exchange of sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine and is seeking to strengthen cooperation with former Soviet republics in Central Asia as well as China and other Asian states amid tension with the United States and Europe.

But Moscow's annexation of Crimea, the conflict in eastern Ukraine and remarks by Putin have raised concerns in nations such as Kazakhstan that the Kremlin could have designs on other parts of the former Soviet Union.

The SCO was originally called the Shanghai Five and was created in 1996 to foster confidence along the border between China and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The original agreements concerned removing military forces away from the common border area.

Later the group refocused on economic cooperation, which China used to great effect to court better trade ties with the Central Asian states.

In 2001, Uzbekistan joined at a time when Russia was battling Islamic militants in the North Caucasus and Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan were fighting Islamic militants in Central Asia.

The SCO was officially formed at that 2001 summit and the group reoriented cooperation to include the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Belarus, Sri Lanka and Turkey currently have the status of dialogue partners in the SCO.

With reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax