Iran Cheers Political Developments in Turkey and Lebanon, Reaches Out to Asian Bloc

By Patrick Goodenough | June 14, 2011 | 4:40 AM EDT

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomes Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran in October 2009. (AP Photo)

( – Far from isolated in the international community, the Iranian regime looks set to benefit from political developments in Turkey and Lebanon this week, even as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joins Asia’s most powerful leaders for a summit in Central Asia.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s election victory and the long-delayed formation of a government in Lebanon under a Hezbollah-endorsed prime minister were enthusiastically welcomed in Tehran.

Under Erdogan, NATO member Turkey has become a supportive partner of Iran, and his success Sunday in winning a third term received prominent coverage in official and semi-official Iranian media on Monday.

“Under his leadership, Turkey has steadily distanced itself from the United States and Israel and showed an increasing disinclination to participate in U.S.-NATO adventurism in various parts of the world,” wrote a Tehran Times op-ed writer, noting that Erdogan had also deepened ties with the Islamic world, including Iran.

“All this has made Erdogan a popular leader in the Islamic world and the most successful prime minister at home.”

Hezbollah’s growing influence in Beirut also will be to Iran’s advantage – not least of all in the U.N. Security Council, where Lebanon occupies a non-permanent seat until the end of the year.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi congratulated Prime Minister Najib Mikati on the formation of the new government, characterizing it as a victory against Israel, and pledging Iran’s readiness to comprehensively strengthen bilateral ties.

Mikati was appointed prime minister after the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies earlier this year toppled the Western-backed government, over a dispute relating to the international investigation into the assassination of former prime monster Rafik Hariri.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and his wife Liu Yongqing are welcomed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on their arrival in Astana for the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Rao Aimin)

The good news for Tehran from Turkey and Lebanon coincides with Ahmadinejad’s invitation to attend a summit Wednesday marking the tenth anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana.

Iran plays an “influential and determining” role in international developments, Ahmadinejad told reporters shortly before leaving Tehran on Tuesday morning. Apart from attending the SCO summit he is also due to talks on the sidelines with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Fars news agency reported.

The SCO is a regional security grouping dominated by Moscow and Beijing, formed with the stated aims of countering “terrorism, extremism and separatism” in the vast, energy-rich region encompassing the two giants and the countries between them.

Although SCO officials and member governments routinely stress that the organization and its activities are not aimed at, or a threat to, “any third party,” Russia in particular used it at times to challenge U.S. military basing rights in Central Asia.

Created in its present form in 2001, the SCO may soon extend membership beyond its current six members – Russia, China, and the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Four countries – Iran, Pakistan, India and Mongolia – have held observer status since soon after the organization was established, and the former three have applied for full membership.

Although talk of welcoming new membership has circulated for several years without any progress made, the SCO is now taking steps in that direction.

A recent pre-summit meeting of SCO foreign ministers approved a memorandum of commitments for countries applying for membership, for adoption in Astana.

Despite historical animosities among some SCO members and aspiring members, the grouping has succeeded in establishing itself over the past decade as a regional player with staying power.

In another development that could be significant for future U.S. interests in the region, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has attended previous SCO summits as a guest, has expressed interest in getting observer status – presumably as a stepping-stone towards eventual full membership.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Afghan request would be considered at Wednesday’s summit.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow