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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SCO Seeks Deeper Energy Ties

Russia, China and the Central Asian states are expected to call for an intensification of energy ties and multipolarity as their leaders meet at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Bishkek on Thursday.

In a sign that cooperation within the SCO, which was created in 2001 to bolster security along the bloc's borders, is gaining momentum, the president of Turkmenistan, which has previously abstained, will participate in the meeting for the first time.

The United Nations is also setting a precedent by sending a high-ranking official -- newly appointed Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe -- to attend the summit.

On Thursday, the leaders will sign an agreement calling for long-term good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation, "which is expected to bolster economic, political and humanitarian ties," an official with the Foreign Ministry said.

"An economic dimension is certainly increasing," he said. Although no separate document on energy cooperation will be adopted, that theme will be spelled out in the documents to be signed Thursday, he said by telephone.

The SCO's members -- China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- recently floated the idea of creating an energy club within the regional group, and the idea may receive additional traction if Turkmenistan becomes further involved.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's attendance will give the event particular significance.

"No doubt, we understand the importance of this move," the Foreign Ministry official said.

An agreement between Russia and Turkmenistan in May to build a new Caspian gas pipeline was widely seen as a blow to U.S. interests in the region.

SCO members are keen on increasing ties not only in the oil and gas sector, but also in hydropower and alternative energy, and possibly in nuclear energy, the Foreign Ministry official said.

The United States and Europe will likely view the ever-increasing cooperation with suspicion, with Iran's presence at the summit being a matter for particular concern.

Some observers expect Russia to use the meeting to push for the inclusion of Iran into the group.

A Kremlin spokesman said official bilateral talks between President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were unlikely.

The Foreign Ministry official did not rule out that they could cross paths during the summit's unofficial events, however.

The leaders will also sign a so-called Bishkek Declaration, calling for multipolarity in international relations, and adopt a joint communique laying out practical steps toward increased cooperation, the Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

Western concerns at the emergence of a new regional bloc may well be justified if Iran boosts its standing in the group, analysts said.

"They may pull together resources that could unambiguously change the geopolitical picture of the world," Rajab Safarov, general director at the Moscow-based Center for Modern Iranian Studies, said of the SCO members and Iran.

But China and Russia -- the group's most influential members -- have not yet decided on the level of Iran's engagement, he said.

"The inclusion of Iran will irk the United States and create additional tensions between Washington and Beijing. Russia will not risk putting China under pressure like this, given that Beijing's influence in the SCO is no less than that of Moscow," said Vladimir Sotnikov, an analyst at the Institute of Oriental Studies with the Russian Academy of Sciences.

After the summit, the leaders are likely to task their governments with fine-tuning the organization's setup to allow for deeper involvement of observer countries, such as Iran or Pakistan, in SCO activities without a change in their status, the Foreign Ministry official said.

"Cooperation will increase," senior Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry official Astanbek Osmonaliyev said, adding that they were receiving requests from a number of countries to grant them observer status.

Thursday's meeting will also likely see Russia pushing for the bloc's members to enhance the military component of their cooperation in order to counterbalance the United States and NATO in Asia, analysts said.

But China, which is unwilling to strain its relations with the United States, is likely to torpedo this initiative, they said.

"Moscow will invite the member states to add to the military pillar, in addition to counterterrorism, energy cooperation and trade," said Ivan Safranchuk, an analyst at the Moscow office of the World Security Institute, a U.S.-based think tank.